Safety, Convenience Incompatible in Online Sales of OTC Drugs 困難な安全性と利便性の両立―機運高まる大衆薬のネット販売解禁―


  The removal of the ban on Internet sales of over-the-counter drugs was proposed as part of the Abe administration’s growth strategy announced in June this year. This has given rise to expectations that online drug sales may be further deregulated in the near future. However, that may take time because the Ministry of Health, Labor & Welfare and some other government agencies are cautious, in particular, about the safety of such “faceless” transactions.





  The health ministry is considering applying new rules to some “Category I” drugs such as "Loxonin S" and "Gaster 10" whose sales are currently required to be accompanied by a paper containing relevant information provided by pharmacists. According to the ministry, the planned rules will designate at least one pharmacy in each regional community that engages in face-to-face selling of OTC drugs and require purchasers to keep a paper confirming that they have been explained about the drugs by a pharmacist. The rules are intended to retain communication between the buyer and the pharmacist.



  Health, Labor & Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura told a press conference on Oct. 25 that he “would like to adjust as quickly as possible” matters related to online retailing of 28 drugs -- 23 Category I items diverted from use by clinics and hospitals, and five powerful medicines. He said, "We should classify them (those 28 items) as quasi-medical treatment drugs quite separate from OTC drugs." Meanwhile, members of the government’s Council for Regulatory Reforms have insisted that the ongoing ban should be completely lifted as soon as such rules are put in place.





  Online retailing has the advantage of allowing residents of detached islands and remote areas without a pharmacy or drugstore, the elderly people and disabled persons who cannot go out to get their necessary medicine with greater ease. However, it is prone to some problems such as a lack of communication between the buyer and the specialist (a pharmacist or a registered vendor), inability on the part of a pharmacist to have necessary information about the buyer’s physical condition or the possibility of the medicine not being used properly. Furthermore, fake drugs and false online stores need to be dealt with. The health ministry said it will require those who engage in online retailing to register themselves with the prefectural governor and that it will inspect and guide to see them abide by the rules. The ministry is also considering measures to protect buyers, such as publishing an emblem or a logo that may help them discern credible online sites.





  Even now, people can easily buy some of the Category I OTC drugs at online stores at lower prices. Considering safety, however, they had better buy them at a pharmacy or drugstore where they can get necessary information and advice in person. It’s true that online stores are greatly helpful to those who have difficulties going out. This may be why the health ministry is being urged to work out its rules immediately. However, people need to be fully aware that safety and convenience are often incompatible in online retailing.





(Written by: Yuta Tate)