a recent Supreme Court ruling has lifted a ban on the online sale of almost all generic drugs (ippan-yo yakuhin 一般用薬品). That means, come later this year, you can finally buy your anti-hangover aspirin supply online and have it shipped directly to your house.
The Supreme Court Ruling
The suit, brought by health product retailers Kenko.com and Wellnet, among others, upheld a lower court ruling that the Health Labor and Welfare Ministry's total ban on the sale of generic drugs was in violation of the Pharmaceutical Business Law and the constitution's guarantee of "freedom of occupation."
The ruling almost immediately lifted the ban and allowed online retailers to start sales so long as their standards conformed to all other pharmaceutical regulations. This includes Type 1, 2, and 3 drugs and pretty much everything outside of prescription strength medication and specially regulated substances.
PM Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led government has given the thumbs up to this ruling and has made the liberalization of Japan's special interest dominated drug market a priority in its "Industrial Revitalization Plan."
What it Means for You
The ruling was a big blow for the pharmacy chain-store lobby which, in addition to giving out campaign contributions and cushy jobs for retired government officials, has been lobbying for years to keep drug sales confined to brick and mortar stores. This, of course, is all in the name of safety. And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Aomori to sell to you.
Up until 2009 it was usually impossible to buy any drug without a licensed pharmacist present. This gave pharmacies an iron-fisted monopoly in their market. After a previous change in the law, certain classes of drugs could be sold by "registered sellers" in any retail setting. Not surprisingly, the pharmacy industry wasn't in favor of that change either, as more market competition threatened to burst the bubble of overinflated drug prices.
As of the writing of this article, Kenko.com , Wellnet, Rakuten, and other online retailers have started selling all classes of generic drugs online. Not surprisingly, the prices tend to be lower than most conventional pharmacies. This is a great boon to rural areas that lack large pharmacy chains as well as senior citizens who have trouble shopping unassisted. It is a bit to early to tell what effect this will have on the pharmacy industry and Japan's relatively high generic drug prices as a whole, but all signs seem to point to additional price competition.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare has pledged to issue new, "fair" rules clarifying the online sale of pharmaceuticals, and PM Abe has stated that he wants to keep the market open to all but the most dangerous drugs. New guidelines will be finalized fall 2013.
Do you have any experience buying generic drugs online in Japan? If so, let us know in the comment section.