By Uzma Shamim:
In the contemporary world, everything is available at the click of a button or in the present context at the swipe of the screen. However, one still couldn’t sell or purchase medicinal drugs the virtual world. But now, witnessing the exponential growth of online availability, accessibility and popularity of products, proposals are in process to amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940 to include the sale of drugs online in consultation with doctors, pharmacists and drug companies. This is in wake of the controversy involving Snapdeal selling prescription drugs online, which was brought to light in April, which is strictly prohibited under the current tenets of the law. This brought out the need for the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring out necessary guidelines regulating the online sale of drugs in India.
At the moment, online firms do not have the right to sell prescription drugs and, even the sale of Over the counter (OTC) drugs are to be done by licensed retailers only. Though Over the counter drugs could be sold online even without a prescription, the sale of Prescription drugs online is legally not allowed. However many online firms have found to be flouting these norms. Under the current proposal, online sale of drugs will be allowed after a thorough examination of prescriptions and pharmacy licenses. The sale of drugs other than OTC ones shall be more closely regulated. The government formed a sub-committee to address issues related to online pharmacies under the chairmanship of Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Harshadeep Kamble. Majority of the members of the Subcommittee are in agreement to allow the sale of drugs with the required safeguards.
However this technological advancement has its own drawbacks. In the recent past, there have been scandals all over the world over the issue of online sale of drugs. The Interpol, recently initiated action against websites selling medicines in 114 countries which lead to the closure of 2400 sites. The Maharashtra FDA had initiated action against the commercial giant, Snapdeal and the Gujarat FDA too had registered a case against some online pharmacies. Secondly, in such a set up even underage children who have easy access to the internet can avail medicines. There is also the issue of sale of drugs for wrongful consumption such as self-harming. However when we look at the positive side, this move can be a big step in making the online market very consumer friendly and comprehensive. The safeguards that would be in place would eliminate cases of faked prescriptions. Furthermore, this will also enable technology to carry forward the Rs.85, 000-crore pharmaceutical industry in India.
The DGCI maintains that there needs to be a regulatory framework in place to keep the online drug industry in its ambit, and that this is one of the best methods to keep a check on sale of illegal drugs. Besides the DGCI believes that this new arrangement wouldn’t harm the small regular retailers. In fact the aim is to accommodate the online sale system with the present one with maximum convenience for the consumer. In wake of the many controversies and scepticism about such a fundamental aspect of life, it will become essential to observe how the government makes the amendment fail-safe.