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Drug Committee suggests regulation of online pharmacies via portal

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The Drug Consultative Committee (DCC) has recommended the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSO) to regulate the sale of medicines on online pharmacies, reports Economic Times. For this, a national portal should be created through which the drug sale can be monitored, according to the DCC. The report does not mention a timeline for the creation of this portal or its implementation.

The report says that online pharmacies will need to display the national portal’s link on their website’s homepage through which their patients and consumers’ authenticity can be verified. The DCC also said that only e-prescriptions with digital signatures should be used by online pharmacies. The report does not mention how the digital signatures will be generated.

Sale of online drugs can only take place when the prescriptions are in compliance with the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Electronic prescriptions could be linked to Aadhaar

Doctors would need to create electronic or physical prescriptions which can be scanned and uploaded by the doctor or patient to the portal. Each prescription would have a unique identification number, patient name and phone number, name and dose of the medicine, compounding and drug formulae and how many refills can be allowed. These prescriptions could be linked to users’ Aadhaar card, the report added.

DCC also said that all e-pharmacies would need to be registered with the CDSO under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 before they could sell medicines online. According to the report, the registration fee for an online pharmacy is Rs 100,000.

Knee jerk ban on online pharmacies

Note that at the start of this year, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) had issued a temporary ban on the sale of medicine online. This was after the DCC had formed a team to examine the sale of drugs online, its risks and concerns. Last year, Snapdeal and Shopclues faced FIRs from the Maharashtra Government for selling prescription drugs online.

Online vs offline pharmacies

Earlier this month, the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) has called for a nationwide bandh to protest the regularizing sale of medicines through internet and online pharmacies. The AIOCD had called for a similar bandh in October 2015. Meanwhile, in June this year, a number of online pharmacies companies came together to form the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) in order to create a level playing field between online and offline drug sellers.

MediaNama’s take: While one can commend the move to keep online drug abuse (as such) in check, our government hasn’t had the best track record for upholding Indian citizens’ privacy. The DCC’s committee was formed a year ago and is still making suggestions to the central drug regulator for regulating online pharmacies, which might again take its own sweet time. Also, the link to Aadhaar might discourage users from buying medicines online, given that there are privacy concerns relating to the card itself and users may not be comfortable sharing their medicine data with the government. Despite the push for digital money transactions, let’s not forget that cash can be a boon in multiple situations.

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