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Health ministry moots online sale of drugs; regulator works on guidelines

As online shopping catches up, you could buy medicines too with a click of the mouse for which the health ministry is evaluating a proposal. The drug quality regulator is framing guidelines and mechanism to monitor such sale.online-sale-of-drugs

The proposal is expected to be taken up for discussion in the drugs consultative committee meeting next month, a senior regulatory official said.

At present, the Drugs & Cosmetics Act does not allow sale of Schedule ‘H’ medicines without a doctor’s prescription. In fact, even over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical products can be sold only by licensed retailers.

However, lately various cases were reported to the central drug regulator in which online retail platforms were found selling medicines.

In the absence of guidelines, regulatory agencies are finding it difficult to track and monitor such sale.

“With changing trends, it is important that we bring in provisions for online sale of medicines and develop a mechanism to monitor it,” the official said. The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has also asked state drug regulators to suggest mechanisms to monitor such sale.

The central regulator is also consulting various international drug regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency as well as examining their models to understand how quality and standards of medicines sold through e-commerce portals are monitored in these countries, the official said.

Apart from quality, efficacy and standards, monitoring the sale of medicines is also crucial because many drugs can be misused if not traded through prescription, experts say. Besides, there are certain medicines which are allowed with restrictions and if taken without proper prescription and supervision, it can lead to serious consequences.

The detailed proposal being worked out by the government is likely to address these issues, while also specifying which medicines can be sold online.

The annual Indian pharmaceutical market is pegged at around Rs 79,000 crore, growing at around 20%. If the government decides to allow online sale of drugs, it is likely to give a major boost to sales of the sector while also making medicines accessible to remote areas.

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