Gmarket, 11st, and other online open market operators have come under fire for allowing the illegal sales of non-prescription drugs, raising concerns that the easy availability of such medications can fuel misuse and abuse.
Under the current Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, online sales of medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, is illegal here because it could endanger the health of its buyers.
"A person who sells medications online can be convicted," a Ministry of Food and Drug Safety official said. "It's also illegal to sell OTC drugs through an open market or overseas direct purchase."
OTC drugs are medicines sold directly to a consumer without a physician's prescription. The official added penalties could include up to five years in prison or a fine up to 50 million won ($42,505).
However, the three online retailers have been allowing sales of medications, such as Omeprazole, Prilosec and Ibuprofen, on their platforms.
|An image of Omeprazole being sold through 11st / Captured from 11st website|
"The products sold in an open market are under the supervision of specialists. They monitor whether the product may be a risk to customers," a Coupang official said.
"However, it's hard to track every single item because all tasks are done by humans. We also need to guarantee some extent of freedom to sellers in the open market. All sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and if they don't, we remove their account."
Coupang was hit recently for selling fake watches and spycams. The listings did not hide the amoral use of these spycams, hinting that they could be used in public toilets, hotels and other private areas.
Another online retailer 11st said it is in the process of removing prohibited items.
"The barred item that was brought up is Omeprazole. We weren't able to track it because the related word was esophagitis, and this symptom is not a banned keyword," an 11st official said.
"We'll impose stricter monitoring rules to protect our customers."
|An image of Acetaminophen sold on Gmarket operated by eBay / Captured from Gmarket|
"Since it's an open market, not direct-selling, we trusted our suppliers to provide products that meet all laws. It was a few sellers, not a mass number, who sold medications on the platform," an eBay official said.
"But we do take the allegation seriously and will respond as appropriate if the ministry asks for our cooperation."
The official added that after hearing about illegal products being sold through the open market, eBay ordered their removal immediately.
An industry official, who asked not to be named, warned consumers that they should be concerned about the risk of being deceived when buying good online.
"Consumers go to these websites or apps believing they are buying safe medications, but they are being deceived by those who put financial gains above consumer safety," the official said.