The increasing usage of smartphones in India has led to significant growth in the number of internet users in the country. According to a couple of research reports and surveys, in 2016, almost 35% of India’s population uses internet. The number would further shoot up in the coming years. Even a few years back, we couldn’t have imagined that almost anything can be bought online. The boom in the e-commerce in India has also given birth to many online pharmacies in the country. They are allowed to sell only OTC medicines and medical products without prescription. However, the existing scenario is quite different. A large number of e-commerce companies are selling prescription drugs through their portal which is grossly illegal!
DCGI’s warning to the online pharmacies
The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has repeatedly warned the online pharmacies and ordered to refrain from selling medicines that need a registered doctor’s prescription. The country’s apex drug regulator has also cautioned healthcare consumers to purchase prescription drugs online. In a positive move, DCGI has also ordered its subsidiary bodies to identify and take necessary actions against the online pharmacies selling prescription medicines.
Earlier this year in the month of January, DCGI imposed a temporary ban on the online sale of medicines. It also formed an expert committee last year to examine the issue of such sales via internet, its impact on public health and also look into the provisions of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, 1945. The committee headed by Dr. Harshadeep Kamble, Commissioner, FDA Maharashtra, has already submitted its report to the Drug Controller General of India.
As per the Indian law, only Over-the-Counter (OTC) medicines can be sold directly to a healthcare consumer without a prescription from a healthcare professional. A licensed pharmacist can in no way dispense prescription medicines without a valid prescription. This rule is followed by most of the countries across the world. It helps in preventing drug abuse and protects the interests of the healthcare consumers.
Maharashtra FDA’s FIR against Snapdeal in connection with the sale of prescription drugs
Last year, Snapdeal faced the heat over the sale of prescription drugs through their portal. Maharashtra’s Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also raided the warehouses of the e-commerce company. The raid was conducted after FDA received complaints that Snapdeal was selling prescription drugs without a valid licence. FDA also ordered the company to immediately stop selling prescription drugs and delist them from their portal. Snapdeal had to comply. However, there are many e-commerce portals which are still involved in this illegal trade.
Allegation of India’s Smile NGO against SastaSundar
Much recently, a few days back, a Kolkata-based NGO, India’s Smile, has alleged that SastaSundar, an online medicine store from Kolkata, is selling prescription medicines through their portal. The NGO has also written to the Department of Health, Government of West Bengal in this regard. They have requested the state government to adopt necessary measures to protect the interests of the ordinary people.
In its letter, India’s Smile NGO stated, “SastaSundar app (http://www sastasundar.com/) is selling Schedule H/Hl drugs, steroid injections and other medicines without proper prescription illegally through online mode. The aforesaid SastaSundar app is owned by Microsec Health Buddy Limited (http.//www.mhbl.in/) having registered address at Kolkata, West Bengal. Considering the risk towards public health and intention to produce evidence against SastaSundar, we placed an order through public via SastaSundar app. Shockingly, we were not asked for any prescription, which is a mandate given by the directorate of drugs control, West Bengal.”
SastaSundar, which is now an established name among the online pharmacies in India hasn’t yet commented on this issue. The company is also expecting to break even in 2017-18.
Implementation of strict frameworks on the sale of prescription drugs
Increasing consumption of prescription medicines can have major adverse effects on human bodies. It may even lead to death. Hence, to curb the illegal practices of some pharmacies, proper formulation and implementation of strict frameworks were required.
Dr. G. N. Singh, Drug Controller General of India said, “We are in the process of finalizing our recommendations on ways to regulate the sector. We are proposing suitable amendments to the Drug Act to make room for e-pharmacies, but under our watch. Till the time a law is in place to permit the regulated sale of specified drugs through e-pharmacies, the online sale of medicines will remain illegal.”
Singh, however, clarified that DCGI is not against the online pharmacies. He further stated that the sale of medicines online should be under a regulatory framework. And, all online pharmacies should abide by the rules to prevent the increasing drug abuse in the country.