Japan Considers New Rules for Online Pharmaceutical Sales

Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOH) is formulating new rules that could further open up the country’s over the counter (OTC) drugs market for online sales. Since the online sales ban was lifted in June 2013, there have been no clear guidelines for pharmacies and online retailers like Kenko.com and Amazon.com.

Proposed MOH rules were released at the beginning of October, 2013. They include the following changes to Japan’s Pharmaceutical Affairs Act:

  • Internet retailers of OTC drugs must operate a regular storefront for 30 hours a week.
  • Each shipping center must have at least one pharmacist to oversee the packing and shipping of all OTC drugs.
  • Only those OTC drugs that have not required a prescription for at least three years may be sold online.

In addition, the rules require pharmacists to confirm by email or online chat the health condition of all individuals purchasing Category I drugs. Previously, customers purchasing Category I drugs — which include products like anti-allergy medications — were required to merely acknowledge an online agreement.

The changes, which must still be approved by Japan’s Diet, come as pharmacies have already begun selling OTC drugs online in Japan. Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings, Sundrug, and Welcia Holdings have all opened online retail outlets, and Amazon.com joined them in September. However, the regulations requiring regular retail outlets and pharmacists have limited sales activities. For example, Amazon has refused to warehouse or ship OTC drugs, and online retailer Kenko.com has announced that it will increase its number of pharmacists by 50 to 100 percent.