Side effect risk said high; Mikitani threatens suit

No online trade for 23 OTC drugs

Kyodo

The government said Wednesday that under rules taking effect next spring, online sales of 23 drugs will be banned for three years after they move from prescription to over-the-counter status.

The new rules will also ban Internet-based sales indefinitely for five over-the-counter drugs with a potentially high risk of side effects, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura said at a news conference.

A bill to revise the pharmaceutical affairs law to this effect will be submitted to the Diet, possibly next week, for passage during the legislative session running until Dec. 6.

The government plans to allow sales over the Internet of more than 11,000 other over-the-counter drugs, a move in line with an economic growth strategy adopted in June by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that 99.8 percent of the over-the-counter drugs will be admitted for online sales.

Regarding the remaining 0.2 percent, Suga said, “the decision was made based on the discussions made by experts.”

Among the drugs that have recently turned from prescription to nonprescription, some experts have pointed out that they could have side effects and thus should be marketed by pharmacists to determine their safety before they are sold online.

But Hiroshi Mikitani, president of online shopping mall Rakuten Inc., slammed the government-planned restrictions on online sales of over-the-counter drugs as “unconstitutional” and suggested he will take to the courts.

Mikitani has been calling for the full liberalization of online sales of over-the-counter drugs.

“This regulation exists to protect the benefits of specific industries,” said Mikitani, who is likely to resign as a member of the government’s Industrial Competitiveness Council to protest the decision.

The government began considering new rules for online sales of drugs following a Supreme Court ruling in January that an ordinance issued by the health ministry that uniformly bans online sales of high-risk drugs is “illegal and invalid” as it considerably limits the freedom of occupation as guaranteed by the Constitution.

In the absence of the new rules, online sales of over-the-counter drugs, including the 23 that have moved from prescription status within the past three years, have been expanding since the ruling.