Chemist body warns against Amazon's entry into online pharmacy space

AIOCD has told Amazon that it is amply clear that ‘home delivery’ cannot be undertaken by any online pharmacy and entities doing so are already facing contempt of court proceedings
All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), which represents more than 850,000 members across the country, has written a letter to Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos and Amit Agarwal, senior vice-president and country manager, against the e-commerce giant’s entry into the online pharmacy segment in India. 

The letter has also been addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other top ministers and government officials. AIOCD said Prime Minister Modi, and other ministers and secretaries should take note that Amazon India is operating "illegal e-pharmacy" which apart from being against the law is against the interest of the public health of the country.

AIOCD has told Amazon that it is amply clear that ‘home delivery’ cannot be undertaken by any online pharmacy and entities doing so are already facing contempt of court proceedings under the laws of India.

“We also have a full dossier ready on this subject and entering this space can bring on legal implications which can bring disrepute to Amazon’s name,” said AIOCD in the letter.

Amazon has launched Amazon Pharmacy which would allow customers to order prescription-based medication in addition to over-the-counter medicines, basic health devices and Ayurveda medication from certified sellers. The service has been started in areas with select pin codes in Bengaluru, while the company is learnt to be mulling scaling it up to other cities across India in the near future. Amazon’s foray into the online medicine segment also puts it in direct competition with established local players including NetMeds, 1mg, PharmEasy and Medlife.

AIOCD said that the e-pharmacies are illegal and not recognised by the laws under Drug and Cosmetics Act and Rules there under. This space has been marred by extreme controversies, court cases and legal issues in the last few years. Highlighting some of the legal implications, AIOCD said that a prescription, in original, is required for every prescription-drug being sold. Further the dispensation has to take place from a licensed premise for which the licence has been issued by the competent authority. Therefore, the sale of prescription-drugs and medicines through online mediums is illegal. The body said that allowing dispensation of medicines by home delivery would require extensive modification to the Drug and Cosmetics Act. It has been accepted by the Union of India in its affidavit before the High Court of Madras. The affidavit further says that even the Acts related to Pharmacy needs to be changed. These include Acts which deal with medicine, code of ethics, drugs and magic remedies.

However, AIOCD told Amazon that owing to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and emergency situations, the government allowed the home delivery of medicines. But it was meant only for neighbourhood pharmacies. 

Referring to a report formed by drug consultative committees, AIOCD said the report was of the view that the sale of medicines over the internet is not possible under the present scenario. It said a full overhaul of the system is required including establishing a national portal for dispensation by e-prescription. Compared with procedures followed by various countries the report said that none of that is similar to the present system of operation of e-pharmacies in India which dispenses medicines on the basis of scanned or snapshot of the prescription. In the US, the e-pharmacies are not allowed to do that. The report said the only way of dispensation will be by licenced chemists in the premises itself and not home delivery.

In the letter, AIOCD also referred to the drug addiction of teenagers in the United Kingdom who were able to buy prescription-drugs online, despite being stopped for further usage by general physicians. It said that the online pharmacies had no alert system to identify multiple orders to the same address.

AIOCD said the Indian Medical Association  in its white paper has said that it was against the online pharmacies in the country as they would encourage substitution of cheaper and spurious drugs by the online stores. It pointed out that this would affect the doctor-patient confidentiality, reduce the supervision of the doctors and  result in drug abuse.

According to analysts, Amazon has launched the pharmacy service in India at a time when there is a tremendous demand for such services which are delivering essential medicines to patients amid the Covid-19 pandemic. An increasing number of people are buying products online and avoiding visiting the stores due to fears of catching the virus.

Amazon shook up the prescription-drug industry in the U.S in 2018 when it acquired online pharmacy PillPack Inc., for $1 billion. This gave it the ability to ship prescriptions around the country and tap the $500 billion prescription market.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel