Japan to Allow Online Sales of Most OTC Drugs

In June 2013, Japan’s prime minister announced that retailers would soon be allowed to sell two major classes of over the counter drugs online. The announcement covers close to 11,400 drugs, which make up nearly two thirds of all OTC sales in Japan. The announcement also marks the end of a four year ban on Internet OTC sales in Japan.

Since June 2009, online sales of OTC drugs — including hair growth agents and cold medicines — have been prohibited by Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOH). A Supreme Court ruling in January 2013 reversed the law, calling it “illegal and invalid.”

Japanese retailers like Kenko.com (which filed the Supreme Court suit) are now waiting for clear rules from the MOH before they start selling. The MOH has indicated that the sale of the riskiest OTC drugs will still require a face-to-face interaction with a pharmacist.

Japan divides its OTC drugs into three types: Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. Type 1 includes drugs that put patients at the highest risk for side effects. Type 2 drugs are lower risk, and include medications for pain treatment and fever reduction. Type 3 drugs carry little or no risk, and include nutritional supplements and vitamins.