Despite the government’s plan to allow online sales of almost all nonprescription drugs, none of the prefectural governments have any staff exclusively engaged in monitoring illegal transactions on the Internet, according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
There is no sufficient surveillance mechanism in place for online drug sales, which are presently allowed for low-risk nonprescription drugs, such as vitamins and intestinal drugs.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to set rules for online drug sales in autumn. One of the biggest challenges in this task is likely to be how to establish an effective surveillance mechanism.
Nonprescription drugs are grouped into three categories in accordance with the level of possible health risks they pose. Category 3 drugs--those posing the lowest risk--have been officially cleared for online sales since June 2009. They are monitored by prefectural governments, which have the authority to grant licenses for drug sales.
In addition to whether business operators are properly registered, prefectural governments are supposed to check if unapproved or fake drugs are being sold online. They are also supposed to monitor Internet auctions to see if unlicensed dealers are selling drugs.
However, all the prefectural governments told The Yomiuri Shimbun they have no staff engaged solely in Net monitoring.
The Kyoto prefectural government has a better system than most, assigning a former police officer on its staff to watch for fake medical products. But most others are giving the task to employees who are also engaged in cracking down on quasi-legal “herbs” and illegal drugs. Aichi, Niigata, Hiroshima and some other prefectures said these employees just respond to complaints they receive over online drug sales.
Aomori and Ibaraki prefectures said they have no personnel dealing with online monitoring.
The Tokyo metropolitan government has five employees assigned to monitor online drug sales, but they are busy with on-the-spot investigations of unlicensed sales agents and other tasks unrelated to Net monitoring.
“In addition to checking registered business operators, we have to check for illegal dealers popping up in the market,” said Toshihisa Noguchi, director of the metropolitan government’s Pharmaceutical Affairs Section. “It’s logistically difficult to respond perfectly [to online drug sales].”
When the scope of online drug sales expands, about 75 items from high-risk Category 1, such as stomach medicine and hair growth formula, and all of the about 8,290 items in Category 2, including cold medicine, will be eligible for sale online.
Although their burden in monitoring drug sales will certainly be heavier, Hokkaido, Yamagata, Gunma, Oita and other prefectures said they cannot increase their staff due to financial constraints.
The health ministry is considering requiring online retailers to list pharmacists’ names and their registration numbers on their sites, which means more items for the prefectural governments to handle.
Akita and Chiba prefectures said the central government should provide the prefectural governments with information on effective monitoring. Kagawa, Ehime and Saga prefectures said monitoring should be handled by the central government, as that would be much more effective than the current system.