CLOTHING, accessories, home items, gadgets, cosmetics and skincare products are some of the things that you may find on online shopping platforms. But, as you narrow down your search to health-related items, you will be surprised to see other medical products. Surprisingly, the medicines available are not restricted to beauty pills. Other controlled medicines that need prescriptions are sold, raising questions about their authenticity and safety.
The prices are lower than market prices, which is one of the factors that has drawn consumers to spend money and compromise their health. Under Section 13 of the Poisons Act 1952, it is against the law to sell or supply medicine without a licence. A seller can be fined up to RM3,000 or receive one-year imprisonment for the first offence. The question is: how have online shopping platforms gotten the green light to sell the medicines, which is against the law?
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang said the mushrooming of “online pharmacist stores” was alarming. “First and foremost, it is against the law to sell or supply medicine without a licence, and secondly, the authenticity of the drug is doubtful, which can lead to serious health effects if it is taken without the supervision of a doctor or pharmacist. “Some medicines sold online could be fake and unregistered, which perhaps explains why their price is lower than that sold at pharmacies,” he said when contacted by the New Sunday Times. “Medicines should be sold only by a pharmacist with a valid prescription or dispensed by a medical practitioner for their patients. The consequences will be dire if the people are allowed to buy medicines without consultations with medical practitioners and pharmacists.”
Checks at popular online shopping stores found that Amrahi’s claims are not baseless. Besides slimming pills, medicines such as Tadalafil, a medication prescribed for erectile dysfunction, Isotretinoin which is used for severe acne and sleeping pills are some of the controlled medicines found on these platforms. “Controlled medicines means that you can’t buy them over the counter, what more through online stores. “These medicines need to be prescribed by doctors or medical experts after evaluating one’s health. “Medicines sold online compromise patient safety as the public have no way to gauge whether the products that they have bought are genuine. “Chances are these medicines have been tampered or tainted with impurities and microorganisms, which pose a serious threat to consumers’ health. “Among the effects can be dizziness, headache, nausea, stuffy nose, muscle pain and back pain. “It can also lead to the more dangerous effects, such as heart problems, if it is taken without the doctor or pharmacist’s supervision. In certain cases, it can lead to death.”
He said supervision from the authorities was crucial to curb the sales of these medicines. “We need to check how these online stores got approval to sell these medicines. “We need help from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism as well as Health ministries to look into this.” Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement director Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin said the ministry had yet to receive any reports on the matter. “We can take action and investigate only if it is related to the performance of the medicine. For example, if the medicine claims to cure diabetes, but fails to do so, consumers can lodge a report. The issue can also be referred to the Consumer Claims Tribunal.”
He said issues on the authenticity of medicines were under the Health Ministry. “The Health Ministry disallows people from making claims about medicines unless they can be proven. The registration status and authenticity of medicines only be determined only by the ministry.” On whether online stores were allowed to sell medicines, he said it was not an issue if the stores followed the Consumer Protection (Electronic Trading Transaction) Regulations 2012. On grouses raised by MPS on the legality of these stores, Roslan said: “We need to discuss with the Health Ministry. We can’t point fingers. We need a solution.”
1. Buying medicine online - is it worth the risk? New Straits Times (Jan 2018). Available at:
https://www.nst.com.my/news/exclusive/2018/01/329542/buying-medicine-online-it-worth-risk. Accessed on: 20 March 2020.