As the Centre is expected to draft new rules pertaining to the sale of online medicines soon, here’s what experts say could be the way out.

Should medicines be sold online There are pros and cons say experts
news Pharmacy Tuesday, January 22, 2019 - 15:56

Two High Courts in India have recently given two contrasting views when it comes to the sale of medicines online – Delhi High Court has banned it, while Madras High Court has said that the sales cannot be stopped all of a sudden. The two views have opened up a debate over the pros and cons of the online sale of medicines in India.

In September 2018, a sub-committee constituted by the drugs consultative committee to examine the issue of regulation of the online sale of medicines had advised a law be put in place to regulate the sales. The sub-committee also mentioned in its report that it is expected that the e-Pharmacy model could account for 5-15% of the total pharma sales in India.

So while the Centre is expected to come up with a draft law defining a proper set of rules by the end of January this year, here is what experts and doctors feel about the sale of medicines online.

The current legal framework

India does not currently have a law specific to the online sale of medicines and both brick-and-mortar pharmaceutical outlets as well as e-commerce outlets are required to be in compliance of the prevailing provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, 1945, to sell pharmaceuticals.

Last year, however, the Centre had come up with a new draft called ‘Drugs and Cosmetics (Amendment) Rules of 2018’, which would allow medications to be sold and procured through e-pharmacies. The announcement drew nationwide protests by several pharmacists who stated that purchasing medicines online could be harmful.

The concerns

The major concerns voiced by petitioners who have moved courts in India is that the online sale of drugs a without prescription may lead to drug abuse. Sale of unverified medicines and without proper dosage may also pose health risks and unverified retailers may lead to patients being deceived.

The benefits

However, several e-pharma firms have contested that the online sale of medicines will make life much easier for patients and will help those who are not comfortable buying certain medications – like contraceptive or birth control pills – from retail stores, fearing stigmatisation. It will also be helpful for patients who are too sick or too old to go out, or are suffering from chronic diseases.

The way out

The online sale of medicines can be a boon for select age groups like senior citizens, feels Dr Vineeta Kaushik, who is a retired central government chief medical officer, now based in Pune. The way out could be that uploading prescriptions be made mandatory and online pharmacies require specific licenses to function.

“Perhaps you can order basic medication like cough syrups or a Crocin but there are many other drugs for blood pressure and kidney ailments and antipsychotics which should not be issued without proper, valid prescriptions. And it cannot be a prescription which is six months old. There should also be a restriction that certain medicines should not be issued for more for than a week 10 days. Similarly, for antibiotics, because if taken unwisely it may lead to antibiotic resistance. So even these must require prescriptions,” Dr Kaushik says.

Dr Kaushik adds that even online pharmacies must make a list of drugs that should not be sold without proper identification like antipsychotics, antibiotics and medicines that may be toxic during pregnancies. The online pharmacies must be notified by central agencies and only those must be allowed to sell medicines online.

Speaking to TNM, pharmacology professor Dr Elango stated that for the effective sale of medicines online, there has to be scrutiny on both ends – during the sale and during delivery of the medicines.

“We have to adhere to modern trends. All the prescriptions should be scrutinised, you should check the name of the drug and its dosage. There should be a mechanism where you can uploading prescription and then the delivery of the drug should also be scrutinised so that wrong medicines are not delivered,” Dr Elango said.