Catania's Bill Would Regulate Pharmaceutical Salespeople

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007

The District could become the first jurisdiction in the country to license pharmaceutical sales representatives, a move a council member says would help protect doctors and patients from disreputable agents who help drive up the costs of prescription drugs.

The drug industry says the move is unnecessary because it overlaps with federal laws.

The D.C. Council is set to vote Tuesday on member David A. Catania's SafeRx Act, which would also ban pharmaceutical manufacturers from using doctors' prescription data for marketing purposes without the doctors' knowledge.

At issue, Catania (I-At Large) and his allies say, is an industry whose representatives can mislead doctors and patients into buying the most expensive drugs on the market, shunning reasonably priced generics or drugs that could be just as effective. Because the agents' salaries are dependent on sales, they sometimes give the wrong impressions about drugs and present themselves as medical professionals, Catania said.

Other professions are licensed, Catania said -- why not pharmaceutical sales? "If it is good enough for cosmetologists, it ought to be good enough for the pharmaceutical company," he said.

Under the bill, a pharmacy board would be formed and would create a code of ethics for salespeople and license them. The "detailers," as representatives are known in the industry, would have to be college graduates and would be prohibited from using titles that could lead doctors to think they are licensed to practice medicine, pharmacy, nursing or in other health fields.

If such a bill passes, it could open the door for states to try to create similar legislation, say people on both sides of the debate. In recent weeks, the District has become a battleground for those who have targeted the pharmaceutical industry in hopes of reining in drug prices and securing stronger local regulations.

The industry is embroiled in court cases in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont over recently passed state laws meant to curb companies' "data mining," the practice of reviewing doctors' prescriptions without their knowledge and targeting them with aggressive marketing.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has countered efforts to regulate drug companies, saying that the Federal Drug Administration and the American Medical Association have laws and policies to scrutinize them.

"The D.C. government should not be trying to insert itself into an arena that is already well covered nationwide by federal agencies," Ken Johnson, a senior vice president of the association, said in a statement. "We should avoid the confusion of a patchwork quilt of local laws."

Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the association, said in an interview that Catania's bill is "a misuse of the District's resources."

"It's sort of a solution in search of a problem," she said.

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