e-Pharmacies

Facts:

  • Few players like Zigy, 1mg; Apollo also plans to start online drug sales
  • Indian laws do not regulate e-pharmacies
  • Challenges:
    • Medicines sold without verification
    • Leads to drug abuse
    • Easier to use one prescription for multiple buying
  • Snapdeal was recently forced to delist several products and sellers for selling prescription medicines online without prescription

Drug-sales in traditional mode also is very weakly regulated. Pharmacists often sell medicines without verifying prescriptions.

Delhi HC Ban:

The Delhi High Court has ordered a ban on the sale of online medicines by E-pharmacies across the country.

The court was acting on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Zaheer Ahmed, a Delhi based dermatologist. The main complaints in the PIL were as follows:

  • Medicines worth Lakhs was being sold online every day without much regulation and posing a huge risk to patients as well as doctors.
  • Online sale of medicines is not permitted under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Pharmacy Act, 1948.
  • The Drug Controller General of India in 2015 had clearly directed all state drug controllers to protect the interest of public health by restraining such sale online.
  • By allowing unchecked online sales, the government has failed in its responsibility to protect public health and fulfil its obligation under Article 21 of the constitution (right to life).
  • Drugs are different from common items; and their misuse and abuse can have serious consequences for public health.
  • Internet is used by a large number of children, minors and also uneducated people in rural areas. They can become victims of wrong medication.
  • Online pharmacies are working without drug licenses and are also indulged in selling psychotropic substances.

Legal Status of Online Pharmacies

The Union Health Ministry had come out with draft rules on sale of drugs by E-pharmacies in September 2018. The objective of these rules was to regulate the sale of medicines across India. The government did not ban the sale of drugs online because such sale also provides the patients in remote areas access to genuine drugs from authentic portals. The draft rules had mandated that no person will distribute or sell, stock, exhibit or offer for sale of drugs through e-pharmacy portal unless registered.

“Selling over-the-counter (OTC) medicines online, which is permissible, is quite different from selling prescription drugs online where the attendant dangers of abuse are high.” Elaborate and comment on the issue. (200 Words)

Existing Drug and Cosmetics Act doesn’t cover e-commerce in pharmaceutical industry, but its mentioned that ‘scheduled drugs’ should be sold only by licensed pharmacies against a doctor’s prescription. By selling these scheduled drugs online, e-commerce are violating law. Added to it there are certain apprehensions related to such selling:

  1. Online sale of drug encourages self-medication which is already rampant in India
  2. It increases chance of indiscriminate use of drugs, which might lead to drug resistance as in case of MDR-TB. Also there are cases of people using old  prescription to buy online drugs.
  3. There are some do’s and don’ts related to pre-storage and dissension of prescribed drugs. And currently there is no monitoring authority to ensure such compliance from e-pharmacies.
  4. Certain drugs are listed as ‘scheduled drugs’. They are only to be sold after being prescribed by a registered doctor. These might be because the drugs are addictive or dangerous. Ensuring compliance online would be very difficult.
  5. E-commerce platforms in India act like ‘marketplaces’ and facilitate others to sell their products. Thus, it may not be possible to hold the e-commerce platform responsible in case of any violation.
  6. The anonymity that comes online might be used by unscrupulous elements to smuggle narcotics in the form of drugs.

There is some positive indication in efforts to resolve this issue with Drugs Controller general of India (DCGI) pointing towards need of a regulatory framework to bring online sale of medicines under its ambit, with consultation from different stakeholders. In this process, it is necessary that interests of small retailers and existing supply chain is not adversely impacted by e-pharmacies, which are already benefiting from double digit growth of pharmaceutical industry.