Illegal online pharmacies have found a new haven in Malaysia. As echoed to the New Sunday Times, president of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), Tn Haji Amrahi Buang said the mushrooming of “online pharmacist stores” in the nation is in an alarming state.

Pharmaceutical e-commerce

As the world is moving towards better digitalisation and inter-operability, pharmaceutical and healthcare services are also fast embracing the potential of the world wide web and e-commerce to expand the marketplace. In line with the growing industry, unscrupulous pharmaceutical product vendors are quick to exploit healthcare’s complex, fragmented, highly regulated; but insufficiently monitored online ecosystem for selfish financial gains.

One of the most highly sought-after prescription medicine that could be obtained with relative ease in the country is the little blue pill – Viagra. According to a recent report by the Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force (MyWatch), Viagra (sildenafil) was openly advertised in several local websites and could be purchased without a valid prescription. In addition, delivery service was available to ship the product nationwide.

Investigations conducted by reporters of a local news portal alleged that the seller “knew the product well” and was able to “[give] a detailed explanation on how it should be taken, the effects of the drugs, [and] differences between Viagra and generic brand.”

The irresponsibility and the utter disregard of patient safety by the vendors should not be condoned and never to be overlooked. Numerous studies have shown that the use of no-prescription online pharmacy had led to a much greater number of adverse events where some of them could be fatal.

"The appeal of these cheap Viagra and the fact that they can be bought anonymously is a big pulling factor that catches the buyers' interest," notes a senior pharmacist working in a local government hospital, who wishes to remain unidentified.

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The flourishing markets

Any medicine purchased should be scrutinised for signs of a counterfeit product, and should never be obtained online – as it is illegal in Malaysia to do so.
Any medicine purchased should be scrutinised for signs of a counterfeit product, and should never be obtained online – as it is illegal in Malaysia to do so.

Online pharmacies are not entirely the manifestation of personal greed conjured up by immoral pharmacists, or to a certain extent, individuals pretending to be pharmacists. To the contrary, online pharmacies may have an important role to play in today’s healthcare industry.

China, for instance, has been considering to deregulate its pharmaceutical market to allow the sales of online prescription drugs. In 2015, Reuters reported that the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) was considering amending the policy with hopes to combat corruption within the system by pushing for a more transparent market through online sales of medicine. The change in the government’s attitude towards online pharmacy was allegedly attributed to the desire to reform the pharmaceutical market.

In other developed nations, online pharmacies are flourishing, too – despite the sector being heavily regulated and monitored.

In the United States, a US-based pharmacy is permitted to fill online prescriptions, provided that the pharmacy is licensed in the US. The physical store must also be located in the US as the importation of prescription drugs into the country is illegal under most circumstances. Similar restrictions are placed on online pharmacies of the United Kingdom, too.

In Malaysia, the sales of prescription drugs are constantly under the surveillance of the Ministry of Health (MOH) to ensure none are sold through the Internet. The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency, or NPRA, is tasked to ensure sufficient monitoring is in place to protect the safety of the population.

Commenting on the illegal sales of online prescription medicine, Deputy Minister of Health, YB Dato’ Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya stated that all drugs that are to be imported into the country must be registered with the government. “We check all the medicine before they can be registered,” he asserted.

The Malaysian law also dictates that only a registered medical practitioner, dentist, veterinary officer or a pharmacist can lawfully sell prescription drugs to an individual who was prescribed the medicine. Any other forms of transaction, including the sales of a prescription medicine without a license or online, is considered unlawful and could be punished. MIMS

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