A policy to regulate online trade of pharmaceutical products in the country is still to be formulated although drug control authorities have been working on that from 2014. Drugs Controller General of India appointed a committee under Harshdeep Kamble, commissioner of Maharashtra FDA, to explore the possibility of allowing online trading in pharmaceuticals and laying down specific rules. Although the committee submitted its recommendations last year, no decision has been taken by the DCGI yet. Absence of a policy framework has encouraged several big and small players into this new trade during the last couple of years. Internet sales of medicines may be helping customers to get their requirements without the trouble of visiting pharmacy outlets and with a tempting discount on most of the medicines. In fact, that has led to a steady increase in sales of several medicines online benefiting some of the well known e-commerce companies. This new trade could be helping old and seriously sick patients to have an east access when medicines are delivered at home without needing to leave their homes. A serious issue in the online trade of medicines is the safety of drugs delivered to the patients. In the purchase of medicines online, there is no role for pharmacist to advise the patients about the dosage and side effects. The new trading platform can also be used by the unscrupulous traders to route doubtful and spurious medicines into the online.
An inevitable outcome of the emergence of online traders is that their activity has seriously eroded the sales of medicines of retail pharmacies numbering about 8 lakhs. Survival of these retail traders is indeed an issue that cannot be ignored as most of them are small operators. All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists representing the retail trade has taken serious objection to the entry of this class of traders. Many of its members running retail outlets in cities and urban centres are reporting sharp drop in sales and a large number of them are very small. The main complaint of AIOCD against the online traders is that they are doing the business in violation of D&C Rules which may ultimately harm the patients. AIOCD thus called for a nationwide strike on November 23 but was later withdrawn following government’s assurance of finding a solution to the issue. The online traders, however, claim that they are operating within the rules and no violations are taking place. Therefore, they also need a space to operate within the limits of the law. But in the absence of any specific rules regulating the online trade, violations are taking place in sales of medicines. Some of the e-commerce companies are reportedly selling even prescription drugs through online although they are allowed to sell only OTC drugs until the policy on the same is finalised. Considering the possibility of unfair trade practices by some unscrupulous elements in this trade, health ministry needs to speed up finalization of the rules for the internet sales.