A police officer identifies drugs in a testing room at the Public Security Bureau of Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province. Photo: IC

The revised draft of China’s Drug Administration Law, which calls for tighter management over online drug sales, entered its third reading on Thursday.

Experts hailed the decision as urgent and timely, and advised the use of big data technology for real-time, off-site and traceable supervision of online medicine sales.

The draft bill, submitted to the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress for a third reading, states that authorized drug sellers and enterprises that engage in online sales should abide by the relevant provisions of local drug business regulations.

Drugs under special management such as vaccines, blood products, narcotics, psychotropic drugs, toxic drugs for medical use and radioactive drugs cannot be sold online, it said.

With the rapid development of the internet, many Chinese patients buy medicines on e-pharmacy platforms or through Chinese cross-border surrogate e-retailers – daigou in Chinese – who help buy foreign specialty medicines, as customers find it convenient, cheap and efficient.

Media reported that people can even buy prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, which would lead to a drug epidemic and abuse.

However, some e-retailers sell fake or wrong medicines by taking advantage of loopholes in internet supervision, which seriously threatens public health, Zhou Zijun, a public health expert at Peking University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Zhou said that strengthening regulations for online drug sales is necessary and urgent.

Conceding that e-pharmacies are growing rapidly in China, Zhou said the related departments should further improve the standards of e-pharmacies from three perspectives – traceability of medicine supply, requiring online pharmacists to provide prescription audits, and an e-pharmacy platform responsibility system.

For example, the related departments can either punish or ban e-retailers who sell fake and wrong medicines that lead to serious consequences, Zhou noted.

He also said that the pharmaceutical industry and government could take advantage of big data technology for real-time, off-site, traceable supervision, and improve supervision.

In 2018, a Chinese black comedy Dying to Survive, based on a true story, triggered lively discussions on cheap Indian generic drug imports. 

The film is based on the true story of Lu Yong, who imported and sold online less expensive generic anti-cancer drugs from India for chronic myeloid leukemia patients from the Chinese mainland. Lu was charged with credit card fraud and the sale of counterfeit drugs in 2014.