Philadelphia looks to crack down on pharma reps with registration, gift banning

U.S. opioid epidemic
Philadelphia is the latest city to consider pharma sales rep registration and a ban on all gifts to doctors. (Stuart Ritchie)

It may soon be tougher to be a pharma sales rep in Philadelphia. Its city council will hold a public hearing Friday on a proposed bill (PDF) to regulate pharma manufacturer reps, with measures including registering with the city and prohibiting any gifts to healthcare providers and office staff.

The “Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Practices” gifts and conduct ordinance, initially proposed by two council members in October, is in response to the city’s ongoing opioid epidemic. More than 1,200 people died from drug overdoses in 2017, the city reported.

Philadelphia already filed a lawsuit (PDF) in January against several pharma companies, including Purdue, Endo, Allergan, Teva and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen over what it calls deceptive and misleading marketing practices. But the council and the city’s health commissioner believe additional measures are needed. The measure extends to all pharma reps, because as the proposed bill notes, “there is evidence that pharmaceutical companies have made misleading claims about medications other than opioids, such as Zyprexa, Effexor and Pamine.”

RELATED: Pfizer sets painkiller marketing code with Chicago's opioid police

“While we respond to the current addictive drug crisis, we should also prevent the next one,” Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, said in a post on the council’s website. “Pharmaceutical companies have the right to communicate with doctors and their staff, but they should not be allowed to use gifts like meals to get doctors to hear their sales pitches.”

Under the new ordinance, all pharma reps will have to register with the city and pay a fee of up to $250, as well as display an identification badge whenever they are selling or marketing on behalf of a pharma company. They will also be required to submit any written materials used to promote the drugs with the city’s health department for review. Absolutely no gifts—not a pen, coffee mug or lunch—will be allowed from sales reps to doctors or their staff. Additionally, no discount coupons can be given for addictive drugs.

Philadelphia isn’t the first city to look to regulate pharma reps. Chicago passed an ordinance to require licensing which went into effect in July 2017. Reps there are required to obtain a license, follow city-drawn standards and education requirements and track all interactions, including gift giving, with healthcare providers. That information may then be requested by the department of health. Nevada also requires (PDF) pharma manufacturers to submit a list of sales reps working in the state, report gifts or freebies over $10 and provide a list of drug samples distributed.

RELATED: Purdue Pharma finally stops marketing opioids to physicians—and cuts 200-plus representatives in the process

The Chicago regulation inspired Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, to include national pharma sales rep registration for those selling or marketing opioids in his “Addiction Prevention and Responsible Opioid Practices Act” introduced in April. Under the proposal, opioid sales reps would be required to obtain a license beginning January 2020 and pay a registration fee of $3,000, as well as complete specific training and disclose the names of healthcare providers visited and any gifts or drug samples given.