Revamped pharma rep and gift-ban bill back on Philadelphia’s council agenda

Philadelphia city skyline
Philadelphia looks to follow in the steps of other cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., by establishing pharma sales rep regulations. (Pixabay)

Pharma sales rep licensing is back on the city council agenda in Philadelphia this week—and so is an outright ban on gifts from drugmakers to doctors.

The revised bill is focused more narrowly on the sales-representative side—only salespeople who represent controlled substances and psychoactive drugs would need to register—and its gift ban was tweaked slightly to exempt handouts at medical meetings and conventions.

All other pharma gifts would be covered, though, and the industry remains opposed to the measure.

Still, Philadelphia city councilman Bill Greenlee, one of the bill’s co-authors, said he’s optimistic the measure will pass. Health experts helped narrow the list of products whose representatives would need to be registered, Greenlee said, noting that controlled substances and psychoactive drugs account for only about 15% of prescription drugs sold

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Greenlee initially put the proposal up for vote late last year, only to pull it at the last minute after local businesses and the convention bureau complained that it would hurt their businesses.

The current “Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Practices” ordinance would regulate pharma reps in the city, requiring them to register and pay a fee, and prohibiting gifts to healthcare providers and office staff.

Proponents say the regulations are needed to address the role of aggressive marketing in the city’s ongoing opioid crisis and, as a secondary goal, gather information on prescribing behavior.

“It’s not the whole solution and we never promoted this as something that’s going to solve all addiction problems in Philadelphia," Greenlee said. "It’s a multi-pronged problem and it’s going to take multi-pronged solutions, but we think this is certainly one of the things we can do. One of the criticisms here, and I guess in other cities, is what is government doing? Why didn’t you get ahead of the opioid crisis? So we’re trying to do something.”

Christopher Molineaux, who heads the pharma industry’s state trade association, Life Sciences Pennsylvania, said in an email that the industry’s position has not changed. The bill will have little effect on the opioid crisis in the city, Molineaux said, and using the measure to track physicians’ prescribing to gather information is misguided and won’t work.

RELATED: Doctors with restricted sales-rep access prescribed fewer promoted meds: JAMA

“We repeat our offer to work with City Council and the Health Department to develop meaningful solutions to this national crisis.  But Bill 108888 offers no meaningful solutions and we continue to oppose it,” Molineaux said.

They’re not alone. Greenlee said although conventions are now specifically not included in bill, the convention and visitor’s bureau is still opposed. He said he hasn't heard from restaurants since the last meeting, but owners could attend the Thursday council meeting and speak then.

Greenlee, however, said he doesn't think the bill "is that controversial. What we feel we’re doing is making, at the very most, the pharma reps work harder to get their meetings with a doctor."