26 percent of Americans use the Web to search p. drugs

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While 26 percent of Americans has used a Search Engine for finding drug information online, still only a few are venturing into the online prescription drug marketplace.

The prescription drug market is enormous and includes millions of Americans who go online to get information about the medicines they consume.

According to the new Pew Internet & American Life Project "Prescription Drugs Online" report, 64% of American households contain a regular user of prescription drugs, and one in four Americans (26%) has used the Internet to look for information about prescription drugs.

However, just 4% of Americans have purchased prescription drugs online, because, simply, most Americans do not fully trust the online prescription drug marketplace.

While 62% of Americans think purchasing prescription drugs online is less safe than purchasing them at a local pharmacy, only 20% think online purchases are as safe as local purchases. The remaining 18% responded that they did not know or that it depends on the situation.

In fact, even though one in five said online drug purchases are safe, only a fraction have ever bought prescription drugs online. The survey found a mere 4% of Americans have ever actually purchased prescription drugs on the Internet. To put that in actual numbers, of the 2,200 American adults surveyed just 93 people said they had purchased prescription drugs online.

When it comes to why people purchase drugs online, even though the sample size was small, Americans who have ordered prescription drugs online cited convenience and cost savings as the main reasons why they decided to take the leap. Privacy was the least likely factor of the choices offered in the survey.

When asked about the last time they purchased prescription drugs online, the majority of Rx purchasers said they visited a site that was based in the United States, and only a few visited a site based in another country. In addition:

-- Three-quarters of Rx purchasers said the last time they purchased prescription drugs online, they bought a drug for a chronic medical condition such as high blood pressure or arthritis.

-- One-quarter said their last purchase at an online pharmacy was to aid weight loss or sexual performance.

-- Most were satisfied with their last contact with an online pharmacy and plan to order prescription drugs online in the future.

All in all, the survey was upbeat about the future of the online drug market, stating that "Ignorance and mistrust of the online prescription drug market may be dispelled by further research and good experiences," and indicating that many Americans may soon change their minds about the safety of online prescription drug purchases.

Drawing an analogy to the growth in another large online category, the report stated: "[Prescription drug purchasers] who research a product online often become customers.

Convenience is the number one reason why banking became the fastest-growing activity between 2000 and 2002 — and it is the main reason why current Rx purchasers made the switch from offline to online ordering."