India's 5.5 lakh retail drug sellers are planning a nation-wide agitation against e-commerce of drugs.
"Online sales of medicines can cause big havoc in the country as it is easy to tamper with the prescriptions and we will fight against any such move to allow sale of drugs online", J.S. Shinde, president of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) told Business Today.
Shinde said AIOCD at its meeting last week in Bhubaneswar had discussed this issue and sent detailed letters opposing any such move to the Prime Minister, Union Health Minister, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), the State drug controllers, and Chief Ministers of various states.
"We have also sought time from the Prime Minister, the DCGI and the Health Minister to discuss the issue and if required, will resort to agitations starting with morchas in Delhi," said Shinde.
AIOCD is the apex organisation of drug retailers in India and its decision to oppose e-commerce of drugs is good enough to derail the move of many new-age e-pharmacies trying to partner with retailers for e-commerce.
At least three major start-ups backed by corporate funds are planning serious e-pharmacies, with a model to sell drugs with a centralised internet portal and partnering with medical shops in various cities. They include former iGate CEO Phaneesh Murthy's start-up PM Health and Lifecare.
"Our role will be just that of a technology enabler for the drug distribution business, and our revenues will be only a certain percentage of their sales," Murthy told Business Today.
The Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC), which is entrusted with the job of advising the government on framing rules for the regulatory aspect of drugs, is expected to meet next week to discuss the options of allowing e-commerce of drugs, among many other issues. The DCC consists of state and Central drug controllers and subject experts.
In India, one cannot sell or buy drugs, like ordering consumer goods online in an e-commerce site.
Drug sales are regulated by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and Drugs and Magic Remedies and Objectionable Advertisement Act, 1945. As per the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, only a licensed retailer is allowed to sell prescription drugs (under Schedule H and Schedule X of the Act), on the basis of a prescription by a doctor that mentions the name of the drug and the dosage.
But the loophole for online sellers is that the rules are silent on selling drugs via the internet or telephone or any other medium, and the Act has not specified to sell drugs only from a physical pharmacy directly to a customer.
"Now almost all kids are capable of using the internet, and the concept of prescription drugs or photocopy uploaded online to get a medicine can create havoc in this country," said Shinde.