‘No online sale of drugs till norms in place’

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said its stay on sale of drugs and prescription medicines by online pharmacies will continue till rules are framed to regulate such entities. A Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V.K. Rao said that “once the rules come into play, you [online pharmacies] can start selling it [medicines]. The problem is that today there are no rules regulating it.” The observations by the Bench were made while hearing applications moved by some online pharmacies seeking to be impleaded in the matter. The pharmacies urged the court to remove the prohibition on online sale of drugs, saying they held licences and no medicines were sold illegally. They also contended that even prescription drugs were sold only if there was a valid prescription from a doctor. The applications for impleadment were filed in a PIL by Zaheer Ahmed seeking a ban on “illegal” sale of drugs and medicines online. During the hearing, the petitioner informed the Bench that the Madras High Court had on Monday banned online sale of medicines till the Union Health Ministry and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) notify the proposed Drugs and Cosmetics Amendment Rules, 2018, in the Gazette at the earliest by January 31. The Madras High Court, however, kept the operation of its order in abeyance till Thursday, to enable online pharmacies to challenge the decision. On being informed of the development, the Delhi High Court listed the matter for hearing on December 20. In his petition, Mr. Ahmed has said that online illegal sale of medicines will lead to a drug epidemic, drug abuse and misuse of habit-forming and addictive drugs. It claimed that the Ministry of Health, the CDSCO and an expert committee appointed by the drug consultative committee have already concluded that online sale of medicines was in contravention of the provisions of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and other allied laws. Still, lakhs of drugs are sold on the Internet daily, it said. The plea added that some of these drugs and medicines contain narcotic and psychotropic substance, and some can cause antibiotic resistant-bacteria, which is a threat not only to the patient but also to humanity at large. “It is a matter of public knowledge that e-commerce websites have been caught on numerous occasions selling fake products. Unlike consumer items, drugs are extremely potent substances and consuming wrong dose or fake medicine can have fatal consequences on patients,” it said. The petition said that as of now there is no mechanism to control sale of medicines on the Internet, and this puts health and lives of people at high risk, and affects their right to a safe and healthy life under Article 21 of the Constitution. “Online pharmacies are operating without drug licences and cannot be regulated in the present regime. Unregulated and unlicensed sale of medicines will increase risk of spurious, misbranded and substandard drugs being sold,” the plea has said. The plea sought directions to the authorities to take action against entities distributing, selling or exhibiting drugs on the Internet. It also sought direction for constitution of an expert committee to find out the total number of websites distributing and selling drugs in the country, and to impose a ban on online sale and purchase of medicines.

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