The Crucial Need for a Policy on Online Sale of Medicines: A High Court’s Ultimatum

The High Court had previously directed the Centre to submit a status report on petitions seeking a ban on the "illegal" sale of drugs online.

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Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by The Health Master

Online Sale of Medicines

The Delhi High Court, in a significant development on November 16, granted the Centre eight weeks to formulate a policy addressing the online sale of medicines.

The court emphasized the prolonged nature of the issue and urged the government to expedite the policymaking process.

This article delves into the court’s decision, the background of the case, and the implications of the lack of regulation in the online pharmaceutical space.

The Court’s Ultimatum: A Last Opportunity

The court, comprised of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna, expressed its concern over the five-year delay in framing a policy on the online sale of medicines.

It granted the Union of India a final opportunity to formulate the policy within eight weeks.

Should the deadline not be met, the joint secretary responsible for the matter will be required to appear before the court on March 4, 2024, the next scheduled hearing.

Background and Status Report

The High Court had previously directed the Centre to submit a status report on petitions seeking a ban on the “illegal” sale of drugs online.

These petitions also contested the draft rules published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which aimed to amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules.

Challenges to Draft Rules

The petitioner body, South Chemists and Distributors Association, represented by advocate Amit Gupta, challenged the draft rules, asserting a “serious violation” of the law.

They highlighted the health hazards resulting from the sale of medicines online without proper regulations.

Additionally, petitioner Zaheer Ahmed, represented by advocate Nakul Mohta, sought contempt action against e-pharmacies for continuing to sell drugs online despite a High Court order staying such activities.

Concerns Raised During the Hearing

During the hearing, senior advocate Sudhir Nandrajog, representing the petitioner association, emphasized the ongoing illegal sale of drugs online despite assurances from the Centre.

The Centre, in response, stated that consultations and deliberations were still ongoing regarding a draft notification on online drug sales.

High Court’s Stay Order

The High Court had previously, on December 12, 2018, imposed a stay on the sale of drugs without a license by online pharmacies while hearing Zaheer Ahmed’s Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

The PIL also sought contempt action against the Central government for allegedly not taking action against e-pharmacies violating the stay order.

E-pharmacies’ Defense

Some e-pharmacies argued that they do not require a license for online drug sales, drawing an analogy to food delivery apps like Swiggy.

They claimed to function as delivery services, not sellers of prescription medicines, and hence, did not need a license.

Implications and Public Safety Concerns

The petitioner highlighted the potential dangers of the “illegal” sale of medicines online, predicting a “drug epidemic,” drug abuse, and the misutilization of habit-forming and addictive drugs.

The PIL argued that the absence of a mechanism to control online medicine sales puts the health and lives of people at risk, violating their right to a safe and healthy life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Government’s Acknowledgment and Delay

Despite acknowledgments from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and expert committees, the sale of medicines online continues to be in contravention of existing laws.

The petitioner emphasized that the lack of regulation allows for the sale of spurious, misbranded, and sub-standard drugs, posing a threat not only to individual patients but also to humanity at large.

The Unchecked Online Drug Market: A Threat to Public Safety

The PIL asserted that the unregulated and unlicensed sale of medicines online could lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the circulation of drugs with narcotic and psychotropic substances.

It argued that unlike consumer items, drugs are potent substances, and consuming the wrong dose or fake medicine can have fatal consequences.

Concerns for Children’s Safety

The petitioner also raised concerns about children using the internet and potentially becoming victims of wrong medications.

The accessibility of drugs online without proper safeguards poses a significant risk to the well-being of young users.

FAQs

  1. Q: Why is the Delhi High Court intervening in the online sale of medicines?
    • A: The court is addressing the prolonged lack of regulation, emphasizing the potential risks to public safety.
  2. Q: What is the timeline for the government to formulate the policy?
    • A: The Centre has been given eight weeks to frame the policy, with a deadline set for March 4, 2024.
  3. Q: How are e-pharmacies justifying their online operations without a license?
    • A: E-pharmacies argue that they operate as delivery services, similar to food delivery apps, and hence, do not require a license.
  4. Q: What consequences are predicted in the absence of regulation for online medicine sales?
    • A: The petitioner predicts a “drug epidemic,” drug abuse, and the misutilization of habit-forming and addictive drugs.
  5. Q: How does the lack of regulation in online medicine sales impact children?
    • A: The petitioner expresses concern that children using the internet may become victims of wrong medications due to the absence of proper safeguards.

Disclaimer: This article contains information derived from the source mentioned below. Our team utilized an AI language model to rewrite and present the news or article in a unique format.

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