At a regional summit to address the heroin and opioid crisis facing Chicago and cities nationwide, Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced new licensing requirements for pharmaceutical representatives. In addition to taking steps to curb the wide-ranging impact that deceptive opioid promotion has had on addiction, these requirements will create the country’s toughest regulations on these pharmaceutical representatives to help keep residents safer and healthier.
“The increase of opioid and heroin addiction has destroyed too many lives and too many families, and we know that there is a clear path from prescription opioids to the opioid and heroin epidemic we see today,” said Mayor Emanuel. “That is why we are taking steps to protect our residents by holding our pharmaceutical manufacturers accountable in their marketing of prescription drugs and working with partners across the state to prevent aggressive and deceptive marketing from claiming any more lives.”
In recent years, the marketing of opioids has fueled a national epidemic of addiction and overdose. Since 2001, overdose deaths from prescription opioids has tripled—and heroin deaths have risen six-fold. The City is now proposing a pharmaceutical representative license similar to a license required by Washington, D.C.—but Chicago will go beyond D.C.’s approach to create the strongest regulations in the country. The Mayor has proposed the following new requirements for pharmaceutical representatives: a new license, third-party ethics training and full data disclosure to the public of their practice and products.
The new data requirements for representatives include disclosure of doctor outreach, drugs they are pitching to doctors, samples provided, and any gifts and other payments offered. The City will make all of this information accessible on its data portal, making Chicago the first city in the country to gather this data and share it publically. This information will give additional tools to the Illinois Attorney General, University of Chicago Health Lab, and other stakeholders to combat opioid addiction and other health problems stemming from drug company marketing.
Through this license, the City would require all representatives selling any prescription drugs to undergo third-party education training and commit to high ethical standards. To enforce these new measures, the city will work to enable medical professionals to report complaints against pharmaceutical representatives and monitor and audit complaints against pharmaceutical representatives.
“Pharmaceutical sales representatives play a key role in influencing health care providers and patients in the use of prescription drugs,” said Harold Pollock, Helen Ross Professor of School of Social Service Administration and Affiliate Professor of Public Health Sciences, University of Chicago. “The proposed licensing regulations will bring needed oversight and transparency, particularly regarding the proper marketing of dangerous medications such as prescription opioid pain relievers.”
To create a larger and more coordinated approach to addressing the epidemic facing not only Chicago but many other parts of the region, the Mayor has worked to increase collaboration among stakeholders across the region, many of whom participated in the summit. Joining the summit today were participants ranging from local leaders to national experts and advocates in the field, offering a range of knowledge on treatment, trafficking, education and more.
“The heroin and prescription opioid epidemic is a complex problem that requires an all-hands-on-deck solution. While expanding access to treatment and naloxone are critical, a big priority must be placed on preventing addiction in the first place. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to promote accountability and education so doctors are prescribing judiciously and pharmacists are filling responsibly,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said. “I commend the Mayor’s announcement today to increase oversight on the pharmaceutical industry, and I will continue to work at the federal level to combat opioid addiction.”
The City has also begun partnering with nearby counties such as DuPage and Lake County to ensure that strategies to ensure a more coordinated approach to addressing the epidemic.
“Like our colleagues in surrounding counties, we in DuPage are fully engaged in the battle against heroin and we’ve made progress. But we can’t make the kind of impact we need to make alone. This epidemic knows no boundaries. And so, our solutions should defy political and geographic boundaries,” said Dan Cronin, Chairman of the DuPage County Board.
Overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids have skyrocketed in recent years, locally and across the country. Data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office reveals that in 2015, there were 609 opioid-related overdose deaths in Cook County, 403 of which were in Chicago. This also includes nearly 25,000 visits to Chicago area emergency rooms for incidents related to heroin over the past five years alone.
Beyond the staggering impact that opioid and heroin use is having on health and safety of residents, according to law enforcement officials, the proliferation of heroin use and trade is found to be catalyst for other crime.
“What we’ve known and confirmed by taking this issue head on through the work of our task force is that we cannot fight this problem alone—that it must be attacked at every level of government,” said Chairman Ed Burke, co-chair of the Task Force. “With the Mayor’s leadership, the steps our city is taking to increase accountability and coordination with partners around the region and the state represents a solid step forward in protecting our residents from the harms of this deadly epidemic.”
Today’s announcement follows a series of efforts by the administration to stop addiction, including an increase in the city’s investment by 50 percent, or $700,000, to boost treatment efforts. Today, the Filler Foundation has committed to boost the city’s 2017 investment in opioid addiction treatment by at least $75,000 with matching funds, and is looking to create an ongoing partnership with Chicago on treatment and recovery. The Filler Foundation was created by Mark and Julie Filler, who lost their 23-year-old son Jordan to a heroin overdose. In total, the city will direct at least $2 million for substance use treatment, targeting areas of the city with the greatest need and to protect residents from the hazards of opioids.
Throughout his tenure, and to make the city safer and healthier, Mayor Emanuel has taken on the pharmaceutical industry directly to increase accountability for the prescription of dangerous drugs that has contributed to heroin epidemic locally and abroad. In 2014, the City of Chicago filed suit against five drug companies—Purdue Pharma, Janssen, Endo, Teva, and Actavis—for deceptively marketing prescription opioids and for misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the risks of OxyContin. Earlier this year, the Mayor struck a breakthrough agreement with Pfizer to commit the company to strict standards in marketing and promoting opioids. The Administration also supported the 2015 passage of House Bill 1 in Illinois to increase residents’ access to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and to ensure increased access to naloxone.