No regulations for the booming e-pharmacy sector


Unregulated e-pharmacies make banned drugs available to people. Thanks to a booming market, banned supplements are easily accessible.

E-pharmacies lack regulation as no law currently governs them, making it an open system for the sale of banned supplements and drugs without prescription, says retail pharma suppliers.

New e-pharmacies are registered with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), India’s drug regulator and central licensing authority. E-pharmacies require only one license registered in any state to sell drugs all over the country. However, physical pharmacy licenses are location specific.

A Right to Information (RTI) response from the CDSCO stated that the department had no data on the number of registered e-pharmacies. Also, the department had no tracker on the complaints registered against the sale of banned drugs. 

Vijaybhaskar Annapareddy, president of the Andhra Pradesh Pharmacy Council of India, shared an incident where he had placed an order for medicines through an e-pharmacy. When he received the package he realized that it did not have an authorized bill from the company and was instead bought from a local pharmacy and delivered to him. He said that the e-pharmacy never answered questions about the bills.

He said that many e-pharmacies work as an e-commerce platform, delivering medicines instead of offering medical care. Since there are no laws regulating the market, it has become a money-making platform. With the involvement of big businessmen, no authorities question the e-pharmacies, he added 

E-pharmacy is a thriving market in India with USD344.78 million in 2021 and is expected to grow by 21 percent in the upcoming years.

Legal Implications

“Medicines can only be sold by registered pharmacies with a valid retail license. The drugs specified under Schedule H, Schedule H1, and Schedule X of the Drugs &Cosmetics Rules can be only sold with a valid prescription from a registered medical practitioner,” said Dr. Kaviraj Rai, currently working with the drug control department. He added that there are many online platforms selling medicine online without following any rules and regulations. 

Advocate Prajjwal Sharma said that the sale of drugs without prescription in any pharmacy or an online store can lead to cancellation of their license along with a penalty. He also said that the regulatory bodies have taken steps to regulate the sale of drugs but regulating the vast online market becomes difficult. He added that a robust mechanism must be put in place to control its sales.

 Dr. Anish Desai, founder, and CEO at Intellimed Healthcare Solutions which provides marketing solutions to pharma companies had similar views, “Online is an open system,” he said, “and hence it is difficult to regulate.”

Lack of regulation

With a growing market, e-pharmacy sector needs better regulation as many banned drugs are available online. Many sites do not ask for prescription and any drug is easily accessible to people. Many times,  people end up taking drugs without doctors’ prescription which can cause long-term health effects. 

A supplier at a Bangalore-based nutraceutical manufacturing firm, Kiran said that banned medicines are manufactured but no authorities monitor or regulate the illegal production. He added that there are not enough food safety officers to match the Indian pharma companies. Hence, it becomes difficult to regulate the market.

Booming Pharmacy Sector

The rise of E-pharmacy sector in India can be attributed to the growing internet penetration across the country. India had 624 million internet users as on January 2021, and the penetration rate stood at 45 percent. Also, the digital India campaign is expected to fuel the market growth.

With the advancement of internet and technology, more people are using e-platforms. People prefer shopping in the comfort of their home that going to physical stores. E-commerce platforms like Amazon also sell medicines now, which may fuel the growth of the e-pharmacy market by 2027.

The prescribed drugs rule the market with a share of 66.41 percent of the total value. The companies are trying to expand their consumer base and improving their platforms by adding more products to the existing portfolio and giving more services to retain in the market.