Keyboard HelpA third of all spam emails advertise health products such as prescription drugs and natural health products, new research has found.

The researchers discovered that it was also easy to purchase prescription drugs and controlled substances advertised in the spam emails sent to the researchers’ email accounts.

“Spam email” refers to unwanted and unsolicited commercial email messages. Such unsolicited email generally accounts for between 80 to 90% of all email delivered via the Internet today.

Peter Gernburd and Alejandro Jadad at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, University of Toronto and University Health Network, Canada, studied e-mail messages sent to three accounts over a one month period. The three accounts received 4,153 spam messages, which account for 82% of the total messages these email accounts received.

A third of the email spam received was health-related. The health-related spam mostly came from the US (73%), followed by China (16%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5%).

The researchers were able to successfully purchase products purported to be Valium and Xanax (sedatives), Tramadol (an opiate pain killer), Cialis (a drug for erectile dysfunction), and Meridia (an anti-obesity drug), as well as several mixtures of natural health products to promote weight reduction or improvement of male sexual function.

The researchers did not test the products to determine whether they were indeed the products they were alleged to be.

“As the number of people who turn to the Internet looking for health or lifestyle problems increases,” say the authors, “merchants will rise to the occasion, matching the demand. As this study has shown, current regulatory, legal, and geographic boundaries are unable to contain the flow of products across the world.”

The study appears in the September issue of the online journal, PLoS Medicine.

Source: PLoS Medicine