Pharmacists in Tamil Nadu want to curb online drug sales to contain drug abuse cases

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Pharmacists in Tamil Nadu have called for swift action to restrict the sale of drugs online, which would be purchased by drug addicts. They depend on a variety of psychiatric drugs, painkillers, including those prescribed to pregnant women.

Six youngsters were arrested last week in Anthiyur, near Erode, for alleged drug abuse for which they had purchased drugs online.

Police Inspector Mohan Raj, who handled the case, said the offenders bought the drugs online, mostly painkillers, and then injected themselves. “They included drugs given to women as painkillers during childbirth. We found out that the drugs were sent from Delhi and we are continuing our investigation,” he said.

The Medicines and Cosmetics Act 1945, Rule 65(2), states that “Certain habit-forming drugs classified in Schedule H and Schedule H1 and sleeping pills used for mental treatment shall only be dispensed by prescription from a physician and under the direct supervision of a registered pharmacist. There is no system in place to control unauthorized transactions made with fake prescriptions, despite the fact that internet portals also require prescriptions.

Treasurer of Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association SAramesh said fake prescriptions are used through web portals to purchase drugs. “Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, the direct personal supervision of a registered pharmacist is required for the sale of drugs on the Scheduled Drug List. But how can there be physical tracking online even if they have a prescription? As a wholesaler, I limit the quantity of addictive drugs sold at one time to retailers. These measures do not apply to online sales,” he said.

However, it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to stop the supply of the drug, as the drug comes from different states and vendors.

An amendment to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act is needed, according to T Natarajan, owner of a medical store and secretary of the Association of Chemists and Pharmacists in Chennai. “These drugs used to treat fever, headaches, analgesic gels can be sold online. Those listed in Schedule H, which cannot be sold without a doctor’s prescription in a physical store, cannot be sold online. We filed a lawsuit in the Madras High Court on behalf of our organization and in 2018 the court ruled in our favour. However, there was a call and the brake on selling was eased. Nowadays, online portals even offer a medical consultation in case of unavailability of a prescription at the customer. How reliable is it? Natarajan asked.

All 33,000 medical shops in Tamil Nadu were raided last week. However, PV Vijayalakshmi, director of drug control for Tamil Nadu, said nothing alarming was found. “There are checks and balances in place when it comes to physical stores. We have raised our concerns with the government about the online sale of drugs,” she said.

State Health Secretary Senthil Kumar IAS said the online sale of drugs is allowed. “If we become aware of any malpractice, we have been instructed to raise it with the relevant state government. Fake prescriptions can also be submitted in physical stores. These online portals are useful for older people who cannot go out and for those who live in small towns where not all medications will be available. We have asked the police and cybercrime to keep us informed of these incidents. There is an extra vigil now, especially after Chief Minister MP Stalin announced initiatives to combat drug abuse,” Kumar said.

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