In an order to states and Union Territories, the Drug Controller General of India has asked authorities to be vigilant of online sales and take immediate action in case of violations. TOI has reviewed the order and the letter sent to state drug controllers. The proposed regulation for online sale of medicines is still under consideration of a group of ministers (GoM) headed by defence minister.
Unless the regulations are finalised and notified by the health ministry, there are no provisions under the drug law for the drug regulator or state authorities to issue licenses allowing e-pharmacies to operate. In its letter to states, the Centre has cited “the order” by the Delhi High Court issued on December 12, 2018, in the matter of Dr Zaheer Ahmed Vs Union of India. The Court had ordered a ban on the sale of drugs online across India, in response to a petition filed by Delhi-based dermatologist Ahmed.
The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists– a powerful lobby representing over nine lakh brickand-mortar chemists and retail pharmacy outlets – have also asked their state bodies to be vigilant of violations. “All affiliated states are requested to appeal to their respective state drug controllers to take stringent action against all online players,” AIOCD asked its members in a letter sent on Monday.
E-pharmacies – already concerned over the delay in formulating regulations– say the move will not only impact consumers but also over 30,000 skilled professionals. As per the industry estimates, e-pharmacy sector is catering to around 50 lakh patients per month.
The current market for online sale of medicines is pegged at around Rs 2,000-3,000 crore, projected to grow at about 20% annually by 2024. Though the offline chemists and retailers have been strongly opposing epharmacies raising concerns about illegal prescriptions and misuse of medicines, various studies have shown more people buying medicines online.