Strong prescription needed for e-pharmacies

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 12, 2015


Fraternity fears e-model could spur misuse of cough syrups, antibiotics

From baby-food to bow ties, it’s available online. But the sale of medicines over the internet has split the retail pharmaceutical world wide open. Despite Snapdeal getting a rap recently from the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration for selling medicines online – several aspirants wait in the wings, ready to roll-out their online models.

But waving a huge red-flag of caution here are doctor and chemist associations, who warn that it could open the door for greater misuse of cough syrups, painkillers and antibiotics, for example. “A medicine is not a phone that you can order the same product online 10 times,” says Jayesh Lele, President-elect, Indian Medical Association (Maharashtra).

Doctors are asked to WhatsApp the prescription to a chemist so the medicine can be delivered to the consumer, but the person dispensing the medicine is not a pharmacist, and that’s against the law.

If sleeping tablets (sold under restricted conditions) are bought from different online shops using the same prescription, you are playing with lives, he adds.

In April, the Telangana Drug Control Administration stopped online portals under Medplus, Apollo and Bookmeds Medicals from selling medicines in contravention of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (1940), according to media reports. “The staff of DCA, appearing as customers, ordered Schedule H and H1 drugs (restricted drugs) without the prescription of a registered medical practitioner online and through telephone and the online pharmacies delivered the same,” a report in The Hindu said.

And that’s precisely what the Drug Controller General of India wants to prevent. There are no regulatory parameters for e-pharmacies at present and it is illegal, says a regulatory official. Mid-July, the DCGI has called a consultative committee with State drug controllers to understand and evolve a safe system that keeps out medicine abuse. In the UK and US, regulators caution consumers to buy only from registered sites and not be lured by discounts or medicine shipment without prescription.

Hemant Bhardwaj, co-founder and chief executive PM Health and LifeCare, a venture promoted by former IGATE chief Phaneesh Murthy, urges the Indian government to relook at the law, as there is a new generation of customers who want to buy everything online. Compliance is an issue with not just online, but the physical chemist shops too, he says.

The soon-to-launch venture that connects chemists and druggists to the consumer seeks to keep itself on the right side of the law by ensuring it has a team of registered pharmacists to check validity of every online prescription sent to them, besides having systems to ensure that the original prescription is stamped on delivery to prevent its re-use. They will not sell restricted drugs on this platform, he clarifies.

Bhardwaj seeks regulatory clarity so everyone in the space can be compliant - one bad egg being enough to raise a stink. Completely opposed to e-pharmacies is JS Shinde, President, All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists. “While the Government wants to control the sale of narcotic drugs at one end, it’s opening doors to increased abuse of medicine at the other,” says Shinde, reiterating concerns on prescription misuse and stressing the critical nature of drug warehousing, transportation and handling.

Ratan Jalan, Founder, Medium Healthcare Consulting, though sees an opportunity in online pharmacies to promote less expensive generic drugs, if the Government gets its logistics in place. The ball now lies completely in the Government’s court, and many will be watching, how they will pitch.

Published on June 12, 2015
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