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Running an online pharmacy, an app, or perhaps providing medicines as part of a wider service could be a profitable venture. However, you should proceed with caution. This is a heavily regulated area, and it might be harder than you think to sell your standard blister pack of paracetamol. This article will explore the relevant rules and some of the factors to consider if you want to sell pharmaceutical drugs online.

Which Rules are Relevant?

The Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (Cth) and the Poisons Standard (created under section 52D of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989) set out the main rules governing the sale of drugs in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (the TGA), in turn, oversees these laws. It is also an excellent source of information on selling medicines and drugs in Australia. Medicines bought online from an overseas company are not regulated by the TGA. You should check the Office of Drug Control’s list of drugs and ingredients as some drugs can only be imported into Australia with permission.

This even applies to drugs with the same branding or product name as ones in Australia, as they may contain different ingredients.

Can I Supply Drugs?

Whether you can supply or sell drugs depends on what type of drug you want to sell. In general, you will need to have a valid listing or registration on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (or ARTG) to import or supply drugs in Australia.

Only licenced entities, pharmacies or medical practitioners can sell specific drugs. Additionally, some drugs require a valid prescription from a doctor or health professional.  

Suppose you are not a licenced entity, pharmacist or medical practitioner and sell drugs that can only be sold by these entities or individuals. In that case, you are likely to commit an offence. 

You are also not allowed to supply medicines to somebody who is going to sell or supply them to others. For example, a friend or family member. Pharmacists can only supply medicines to:

  • patients for their personal use; or
  • doctors or other authorised medical practitioners for emergency treatment. 

Poisons Standard Schedules

The Poisons Standard places different drugs in different schedules. To sell the drugs listed in a specific schedule, you must be one of the specific entities or people authorised to do so. Drugs for therapeutic use are mostly included in Schedules 2, 3, 4 and 8.

For example, Schedule 2 medicines are pharmacy medicines which are available from a pharmacy or a licensed person.

Schedule 3 medicines are also pharmacist only medicines, meaning they can only be sold by a pharmacist. However, unlike Schedule 4 medicines, Schedule 3 medicines may be sold without a prescription.

Schedule 4 substances can only be sold with a valid prescription from an authorised person. Generally, an ‘authorised person’ will be a registered doctor or registered nurse. However, this is dependent on relevant State and Territory laws.

Schedule 8 lists controlled drugs, which have restrictions on the manufacture, supply, distribution, possession and use due to their highly addictive nature.

What About Supplements?

Some supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and protein powders, are considered therapeutic goods and must be listed or registered on the ARTG. 

As of 30 November 2020, the TGA has declared that certain sports supplements will be considered therapeutic goods and regulated as medicines. This means that if you have previously sold sports supplements and they contain qualifying ingredients, such as a substance in the Poisons Standards or identified on the World Anti-Doping Code’s Prohibited List, you will need to consider altering product formulas to continue to supply them as foods. Alternatively, you will need to enter your supplement on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Similarly, if you advertise sports supplements that are now considered therapeutic goods, you must comply with the relevant advertising requirements.

Can I Advertise Pharmaceutical Drugs Online?

For most medicines sold over the counter (which means that a customer can purchase them without a prescription), you can advertise to consumers but only from a pharmacy and in some cases a supermarket. In contrast, you cannot advertise prescription-only medicines directly to consumers in Australia.

The Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code sets out advertising regulations and restrictions for non-prescription and complementary medicines. Social media posts, such as posts on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, which promote the use or supply of therapeutic goods, are also advertisements. Therefore, you must comply with the rules for advertising therapeutic goods when advertising on those platforms.

What Else Should You Consider?

Many people will be suspicious of buying drugs on the internet from an unknown website. To help reassure consumers that you are permitted to sell pharmaceutical drugs and that you have the proper authorisations in place, you may want to consider:

  • displaying details of your pharmacy accreditation or registration;
  • providing contact details for customers to talk to a pharmacist about what drugs are right for them, such as a phone number or email address; and 
  • showing that you have a physical address in Australia and an Australian Company Number.

Key Takeaways

The regulation of therapeutic goods (i.e. drugs and medicines) is complex. Whether you can sell them online will depend on:

  • what type of drug you want to sell; and
  • whether you are a pharmacist, doctor or licensed entity. 

If you want to sell drugs online, you should seek legal advice to ensure that you remain on the right side of the law. Contact LegalVision’s e-commerce lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I supply pharmaceutical drugs?

This depends on what type of drug you want to sell. There are specific drugs that only licenced entities, pharmacies or medical practitioners can sell. Some drugs also require a valid prescription from a doctor or health professional.

Can I supply supplements?

Supplements and complementary medicines like vitamins, minerals and protein powders, are usually treated as foods rather than pharmaceutical products. However, certain sports supplements are considered therapeutic goods and regulated in the same way as other medicines. It will ultimately depend on the ingredients and subsequent classification. 

Can I advertise pharmaceuitical drugs online?

You can advertise to consumers for most over the counter medicines but only from a pharmacy or supermarket. However, you cannot advertise prescription-only medicines directly to consumers in Australia. This includes social media posts on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. 


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