Could Amazon soon be able to sell non-prescription drugs in France?

French pharmacists are concerned a proposed new law aiming to loosen up the country's tightly regulated sale of medicines and drugs could "uberise" their profession.

Could Amazon soon be able to sell non-prescription drugs in France?
Photo: AFP

France's currently closed-off pharmaceutical industry could soon be opened up to outsiders thanks to a new bill that proposes a loosening of the rules regulating e-commerce of non-prescription drugs.

The bill, reviewed by the French government on Wednesday, has sparked anger among French pharmacists who fear it could have disastrous consequences for their currently highly protected profession.

Is online sale currently forbidden in France?

No. Online sale of non-prescription drugs is legal in France, but it is strictly regulated.

Non-prescription drugs can be sold online only if the stock is visibly advertised as belonging to a pharmacy. Independent online platforms, like Amazon, are not allowed to take part in this sale.

READ MORE: Are the French falling out of love with their pharmacies?

What will the bill change?

The bill, called Asap (Accélération simplification de l'action publique), would loosen up the rules regulating online sale of non-prescription drugs for online platforms that are not directly linked to pharmacies.

Pharmacist’s union USPO has said it fears this would “clear the way for an ‘uberisation” of the profession.

“This is the kind of marketisation that we have always been fighting,” union leader Gilles Bonnefond told French newspaper Le Parisien.

“If Amazon wanted to [when the bill is passed], they could launch themselves into non-prescription drug sales.”

Amazon entered the US market one year ago with its brand Amazon Pharmacy.

Photo: AFP

What does the government say?

The government defended the new bill, saying loosening the regulations was “necessary to develop online sale [of non-prescription drugs], especially in urban zones,” according to Le Parisien.

Health Minister Agnès Buzyn tried to reassure pharmacists by saying that the platforms taking part in the sale would be controlled professionals in the industry.

“We don’t want platforms to sell drugs like they sell books,” she told BFMTV on Wednesday morning.

Compared to other countries, France's pharmaceutical industry is tightly regulated.

In a recent development, pharmacies may only sell painkillers from behind the counter, a measure put in place so that customers must ask if they want to purchase paracetamol, ibuprofen and the like.

French health regulator ANSM pushed for the move in order to stem the over-use of the drugs and the associated health risks. Over-use of paracetamol for example can use damage to the liver.

READ ALSO: France tightens (further) rules on sale of paracetamol and ibuprofen

To Bonnefond from USPO, tightening the rules and then opening up for a slackened online sale did not make sense.

“They just limited the sale of Doliprane and other ibuprofen, and now they want to open up for online sale!”

Member comments

  1. Good but it doesn’t go far enough. If businesses can’t survive without Government interference, they should no longer be in business.

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.