The legislation specifically targets pharmaceutical sales representatives, bad actors among the group, requiring all drug sales representatives to become licensed by the State Board of Medical Examiners.

“The reason for the bill is because of the consistent news reports, including a recent case where there’s been a plea of guilty, for pharmaceutical reps who are in fact using their positions to enhance the sale of their drugs over others, in particular the opioid market,” said state Sen. Joe Cryan, who is sponsoring the bill.

The bill is in response to a former Insys Pharmaceutical sales representative, admitting bribery and kickback schemes to get doctors to prescribe highly-addictive painkillers. The money was handed out under the guise of “speaker fees.” Investigations show doctors across the state received more than $1.5 million in so-called speaker fees in exchange for prescribing opioids from 2013 to 2015. Cryan, the bill’s sponsor, calls it drug dealers in pinstripe suits.

“The idea is we no longer allow this hiding of the availability, for example, of using speaker fees as some sort of hidden way to promote a particular drug sale, one over the another. And what we’ve learned through our data and through this investigation is that when sales reps utilize things like speakers fees and other incentives that the sale of those drugs, studies show, actually are done more by that doctor,” Cryan said.

It’ll require more training and continuing education in the areas of ethics, and pharmacology and sales reps will undergo more intense reporting requirements for financial incentives. But at a hearing in Trenton Monday, pharmaceutical representatives pushed back and said the legislation creates regulatory burden.

“It is unnecessary, given recent regulations adopted by the state at the end of last year that were aimed at addressing potential conflicts of interest between prescribers and pharmaceutical manufacturers,” said Joanne Chan, assistant general counsel for PhRMA.

“Imposing additional regulations which are redundant and unnecessary will only make it more difficult for the life sciences industry to contribute to contribute to New Jersey economy in a significant manner,” said Rebecca Perkins, vice president of government affairs for BioNJ.

But others in favor pointed out the current rules must not be enough or we wouldn’t be facing this health crisis.

“I was given that prescription for six straight months, and a year and a half later my life was a disaster,” said Francis Falkenstein, chief legal counsel for Humble Beginnings Recovery Centers. “I don’t know what would have happened had there been legislation back then. I can just tell you it definitely would have given me more of a chance.”

State Sen. Nellie Pou asked, “What actions have companies taken to prevent that from happening?”

“I can not speak to the specific business practices of our companies, but companies do have compliance programs in place because there are so many requirements out there that they must comply with,” Chan replied.

“I got to tell you, I found myself questioning whether we needed this bill before this hearing,” said Cryan. “Now I find myself saying we absolutely need this bill.”

So after much opposition from pharmaceutical and life science lobbyists, the bill was held today for further consideration. No word yet on when the next hearing will be.

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