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?

There are laws setting out the main rules governing the sale of drugs in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (the TGA) is also an excellent source of information on selling medicines and drugs in Australia. The TGA does not regulate medicines bought online from an overseas company. 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 Australian. This is because they may contain different ingredients.

Can I Supply Drugs?

Whether you can provide drugs depends on what type of drug you want to sell. 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 to 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 in Schedules 2, 3, 4 and 8.

No person aside from a pharmacist must sell Schedule 2 medicines unless licenced to do so. Schedule 3 medicines are also pharmacist only medicines. However, unlike Schedule 2 medicines, you can sell these without a prescription, but only from a pharmacist. Only pharmacists and medical practitioners can sell Schedule 4 drugs. Schedule 8 lists controlled drugs which only a pharmacist or prescription can supply. These drugs have restrictions on the manufacture, supply, and distribution due to their highly addictive nature.

This means that if you are not a pharmacist, medical practitioner or other licenced entity, selling drugs is quite tricky! If you want to sell drugs online without breaking any rules, you will need to either become a licenced pharmacist or medical practitioner or sell an unlisted drug.  

For example, if you;

  • run an online pharmacy you can sell medicines listed in Schedule 2;
  • are a pharmacist and run an online pharmacy, you can sell medicines listed in Schedules 2 and 3; and
  • run an online pharmacy and the customer provides you with a valid prescription, you can sell medicines listed in Schedule 4.

What About Supplements?

Supplements and complementary medicines, such as vitamins, minerals and protein powders, are usually treated as foods rather than medicines and are not tested and regulated in the same way as prescription drugs. 

However, the TGA declared that, as of 30 November 2020, certain sports supplements will be considered therapeutic goods and regulated in the same way as other 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 as 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 should register the 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 legislative requirements. 

If sports supplements contain qualifying ingredients, they will be classified in the Poisons Standard schedules just like other drugs. You will only be able to sell them if you are one of the permitted entities or people authorised to do so. 

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.

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 Quality Care Pharmacy Program accreditation or registration on your website;
  • 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 and tricky to navigate. Whether or not 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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