In Washington, the Council of the District of Columbia has given its preliminary approval to a bill which would require pharmaceutical sales representatives to be licensed by the DC Board of Pharmacy. The Council voted 7-6 in favour of the measure, which now moves to further discussion at its next meeting, to be held on January 8.

If the bill, entitled the SafeRx Act of 2007, passes into law, it will make DC the USA’s first jurisdiction to require drug company reps to be licensed. In the run-up to the vote, SafeRx’s lead sponsor, Councilman David Catania, said that he expected the pharmaceutical industry to be lobbying his colleagues “intensively.” However, he added; “I am confident that the Council will put the health and safety of our residents before the profits of pharmaceutical companies.”

As well as seeking the licensing of reps, SafeRx would require them to have “an appropriate educational background” (a bachelor’s degree) and to adhere to a professional code of conduct which would, among other things, prohibit them from giving doctors gifts. Those who violate the code would face fines and the possibility of losing their license.

Pharmaceutical reps “have come to play a huge role in our healthcare system, and it is time to start treating them as the healthcare providers. Placing them under the purview of the Board of Pharmacy is a completely sensible way to police drug salesman in the District,” said Councilman Catania.

However, Council members who voted against SafeRx said it would create a bureaucracy and a regulatory process which would be hard to enforce, and forecast that it would discourage drugmakers from doing business in Washington. Councilwoman Marion Bowser, who said she supported a number of SafeRx’s individual provisions but opposed the bill in the vote, warned that the measure “promises exactly what the [Food and Drug Administration] can’t accomplish,” while some others suggested that pharmaceutical companies might pass on the costs of licensing their reps to consumers in the form of higher prescription costs.