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Offline pharmacies protest online sale of drugs; to remain closed on Wednesday


While online cab aggregators and self drive cars have already faced the heat along with e-commerce players when it comes to offline retail and businesses, the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), has called for a one day nationwide strike on Wednesday, October 14 to protest against the online sale of pharmacy, reports NDTV. Hospital pharmacies will remain open.

AIOCD states that the strike has been called to protect its interests as well as that of the consumers and opposes the government’s move to regularise the sale of medicines through the internet, citing that it is illegal to do so under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. It also added that e-pharmacy would hamper the interest of 800,000 chemists and 8 million workers and their families.

The Mid Day reports that chemists in Faridabad will also be joining in the strike, along with Goa’s chemists, as reported by ET, Karnataka Organisation of Chemists and Druggists as reported by Daijiworld and All Kerala Chemists and Druggists Association, as reported by The Hindu.

While some websites might allow users to upload prescriptions from doctors, the website would have no way to verify its authenticity, said Prasad Tamba, the president of the Goa pharmacists association. Note that every doctor in the country needs to register with the Medical Council of India in order to practice medicine. The websites which allow users to upload prescriptions can cross check with the Council’s database in order to verify the prescription.

About 4 months ago, the Indian Pharmacists Association (IPA) had written a letter to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for not allowing ecommerce companies and online pharmacies to sell medicine and drugs in India. Abhay Kumar, national president of the IPA told MediaNama that DCGI’s moves were in contravention of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act which says that drugs can be dispensed in registered pharmacies only and cannot be sold online. “Even when it comes to the over the counter (OTC) drugs they must be sold in pharmacies only even though you do not need a physician’s prescription for it,” Kumar said.

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US FDA advisory: In the same month, the DCGI appointed industry body FICCI to as the nodal agency to consolidate and frame guidelines for online sales of medicines through e-commerce channels. IPA which sent a letter to DGCI also cited an advisory (pdf) from the US Food and Drugs Administration warning consumers of the possible dangers of buying medicine over the Internet. The letter also mentioned that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), the professional organization that represents the state boards of pharmacy in the United States, found that only 4% of online websites reviewed appear to meet state and federal pharmacy laws.

The Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940 (pdf) defines “drugs” as a variety of substances, diagnostic and medical devices, while cosmetics is defined as any product meant to be applied to the human body for beautifying or cleansing (excluding soaps). Note that in 1964, the act was amended to include Ayurveda and Unani drugs as well.

MediaNama’s take: While the issue seems a mix of protecting the pharmacists’ livelihoods along with consumer protection, India does need a regulation for buying medicines online, given the potential for drug abuse/illegal sale of prescription medicines. However, just to point out, an offline prescription can also be used at different pharmacies to procure lots of drugs since prescriptions in India are not marked as “used” by the pharmacy which originally supplied the prescribed drugs. Likewise, neither do doctors direct patients to buy from specific pharmacies (not for generic drugs anyway). Another issues is that of drug handling: certain medicines need to be temperature controlled, not exposed to sunlight etc, which may not be possible for online pharmacies to ensure once the drug leaves their warehouse.

In related news, we’re not even talking about the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators or of the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertising) Act, 1954. We will highlight that the battle between traditional and online businesses will only intensify as regulatory intervention will be required when the shift to online happens (and is already happening).

Also read: Maharashtra FDA lodges FIR against Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl for selling prescription drugs

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