The administration, as part of its strategy to stimulate growth, decided Tuesday to allow more than 99 percent of nonprescription drugs to be sold over the Internet, officials said.
The move is aimed at enhancing convenience for consumers and boosting price competition, which could help strengthen the foundations of the pharmaceutical industry, and also at expanding business through the Internet, the officials said.
Various ministers, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura, agreed that about 11,400 kinds of over-the-counter drugs should be approved, though some with potentially severe side effects should be left off the list, the officials said.
The administration has yet to identify the medications that should be excluded, and has not worked out all of the safety measures that will be needed.
“If the government allows (nonprescription) drugs to be sold over the Internet, that could enhance the convenience in national life, but it is extremely important to ensure safety,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a Diet session. “We will make efforts to draw up new rules to ensure safety as soon as possible.”
The Supreme Court ruled in January that a health ministry ordinance uniformly banning online sales of “high-risk” drugs is “illegal and invalid.” The ruling prompted the government to consider new rules on the matter.
Under the ordinance, drugs such as gastrointestinal and cold medicines as well as hair growth agents are required to be sold over the counter at pharmacies, while sales of low-risk drugs, such as vitamin supplements, are not.
Administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada said she hopes the administration will come up with a conclusion in line with the Supreme Court ruling.
The Cabinet is scheduled to endorse the wide-ranging growth strategy on June 14. This strategy is one of Abe’s “three arrows” to pull the economy out of nearly two decades of deflation, along with aggressive monetary easing and large-scale public works projects.
Abe is eager to explain the strategy to his Group of Eight counterparts during their summit in Northern Ireland slated for June 17 to 18, according to sources close to him.