BANGALORE, India -- "These days, everything sells online. So, why not medicine," said a 60-year-old woman outside a hospital in a residential neighborhood where drug stores did not open Wednesday to protest the sale of medicines online.
Pharmacies across India remained closed -- about 850,000 by some estimates -- after the Indian government said it was drawing up guidelines to regulate online drug sales. The All India Organisation of Chemists & Druggists (AIOCD) has argued that online sales of drugs could encourage the illicit use of prescription medicines and lead to problems like addiction.
India is seeing a surge in online sales of everything ranging from furniture to electronic goods to groceries as many in the country get connected to the Internet and payments systems get more secure and convenient. Technopak, a retail market research firm, predicts India's online retail market to grow to be worth as much as $32 billion by 2020. And the annual retail drugs market in the country is estimated to be worth 830 billion rupees (about $12.8 billion) and that number is predicted to more than triple to 3 trillion rupees ($46 billion).
Veena, identified only by her first name, was at an area hospital to buy medicines. She told International Business Times that she had visited over six stores in the neighborhood before deciding to make a trip to a pharmacy inside a hospital, as they're not part of the strike. Others at the the hospital told IBT that they had directly come to the hospital drugstore fearing private pharmacies would be closed.
And while many, like Veena, see the sales of drugs online as a natural progression of e-commerce in the country, others are less sure of the trend. Arvind Shah, a 30-year-old man working for a multinational company in Bangalore, told IBT: "Teenagers will have access to buying of prescribed medicines, such as sleeping pills."
AIOCD President J S Shinde told Agence France-Presse that the organization's investigation had shown that contraceptives, sleeping pills and steroids were being sold online. The AIOCD has argued that online drug sales are illegal under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940.
"We feel that opening of doors to internet for e-pharmacy in India cannot be compared with the developed countries. Drugs are sold online in developed countries, but it cannot replicate in India," Shinde said, according to the Press Trust of India, adding: "At present, online pharmacy business is going on illegally and authorities are not taking any actions against them for the complaints made by us."
An association of pharmacies in the newly created state of Telangana in eastern India, said: “Online availability of drugs will encourage irrational use of drugs, increase risk of adverse drug reaction, could make youth addicted because of easy accessibility. It will also encourage low quality, misbranded and spurious medicines,” according to the Hindu, a national daily.
Online drug stores, or “e-pharmacies,” as they have been described, have also run into trouble with the law recently, with a watchdog agency in the western state of Maharashtra reportedly raiding the offices of several operations in the state. And a complaint was reportedly filed against the CEO of Snapdeal, an online marketplace, in connection with the sale of a generic version of Viagra. The company reportedly argued that it was only an aggregator and not a seller.
"We may resort to indefinite strike, if the Centre fails to resolve the issue immediately," AIOCD's Shinde told the PTI.