Alibaba and vendors selling prescription drugs via loophole

Sellers on two of China’s largest online retail sites are reportedly taking advantage of a legal loophole to sell thousands of prescription drugs through their sites.

Alibaba and have been found to list swathes of prescription drugs, including antidepressant Zoloft and anti-inflammatory medication Celebrex, on their platforms.

According to the Financial Times, many of these drugs can be bought without submitting a prescription, as sellers take advantage of a payment loophole.

Drugs bought via the websites are paid for upon delivery, meaning the transactions can be classified as offline.

Though Chinese policy explicitly prohibits the sales of prescription drugs online, lawyer at Hong Kong based law firm King & Wood Mellesons Mark Zhang said it’s unclear where these transactions sit legally.

“There are regulations which explicitly prohibit online sales of prescription drugs,” he told the Financial Times.

“There is a lot of room for discussion about whether these actions are illegal. This is a grey area. Policy encourages the industry to make innovations, but retains the space for penalties.”

In response to the reports, Alibaba’s Tmall said in a statement: “Merchants on our platform, including pharmacies, are prohibited from carrying out online sales of prescription drugs. We will take action against those who violate our product listing policy.”

Online pharmacy sales in China were understood to be worth about $2.5 billion (£1.91 billion) in 2016, though the majority of these were from medical devices, contact lenses and contraceptives.

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