The government may back e-pharmacies amidst the long-drawn battle between chemists and online medicine retailers in the country. A health ministry sub-committee tasked with deciding the online model’s viability has spoken in its favour, according to the country’s apex drug regulator.
The sub-committee, which deliberated over the issue for almost a year, is also set to release a report of recommendations to regulate e-pharmacies here, said Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) joint drugs controller S Eswara Reddy, who was speaking at an event organised by FICCI on Monday.
“This report will mainly accept online pharmacies only with respect to e-prescriptions,” said Reddy. The committee has also recommended a standardised format for these prescriptions, he said.
The sub-committee has defined terms related to online medicine retail, including e-prescriptions, online pharmacies, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, according to Reddy. It has suggested amendments to the country’s drug rules and a “negative list” specifying the drugs that online pharmacies are not allowed to sell to “ensure the safe running of online pharmacies”, he added.
Stakeholders also discussed the prospect of integrating AADHAAR into the overall e-pharmacy framework to make the retail process more transparent. Nearly 80% of the Indian population has an AADHAAR number, said health ministry additional secretary KB Aggarwal, who was also at the event.
Regulation of e-pharmacies is expected to improve the patient’s access to quality medicines, according to Aggarwal. “(e-Pharmacy) has the potential to provide proper digital tracking of medicine sales, prescriptions, prescriber’s information…thereby reducing the problems of counterfeit medicines and their abuse,” he said. At the same time, measures such as mandating e-prescriptions would not be effective to check the abuse of medicines through e-pharmacies, according to legal experts like Luthra & Luthra partner Vaibhav Kakkar. Pharmacy regulations issued in 2015 under the Pharmacies Act already provide for e-prescriptions, he said.
“This new technology is going to bring about disruption, (which) can only be utilised if you don’t put limitations of this nature. How many doctors do we know who actually these days will continue to issue e-prescriptions?” said Kakkar.
At present, there is little clarity on provisions to regulate online pharmacies in India, according to the industry. India’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act does not differentiate between drugs sold online or through brick-and-mortar retail stores. This has led to several conflicts between chemists and online drug sellers, with the chemist lobby group All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) approaching 10 high courts over the continued operation of e-pharmacies earlier this month.
Clear laws to regulate e-pharmacies will enable a friendly environment for existing online retailers and may also encourage more entrepreneurs to enter the space, according to Prashant Tandon, CEO of online pharmacy 1mg. Chemists maintained that they would continue to oppose the government’s latest move, as the current drug laws do not permit e-pharmacies. It is not in the interest of consumers and over eight lakh brick-and-mortar pharmacies, according to AIOCD general secretary Suresh Gupta.