A new study in PLoS Medicine conducted by Peter Gernburd and Alejandro Jadad from the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, University of Toronto and University Health Network, Canada, has obtained evidence that one-third of all spam messages in e-mail accounts promote health-related products. These are usually prescription drugs and natural health products that are controlled substances and are easy to purchase over the Internet.
In the study, the authors studied e-mail messages sent to three accounts over a one-month period. The three accounts received 4,153 spam messages (82% of the total messages received), and a third of this spam 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.
"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."