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Cannabis, Opioids, and Big Pharma: What it Means for Pharma Sales Reps

Unsplash.com; Pexels
Unsplash.com; Pexels

Pharmaceutical sales reps could be in for a big change in the coming years as legislation on medical marijuana is changing throughout many parts of the U.S. This legislation has created chatter in many businesses, but especially within pharmaceutical companies.

Opioid discussions have been topping the trends charts as some healthcare providers slowly take a step back from these pain relievers and consider moving to medical cannabis. Here’s what the debate of cannabis versus opioids mean for pharmaceutical sales reps:

Impact of Medical Marijuana on Pharma Sales

Medical marijuana laws progressed in 23 states by 2015 and patients have noticed. The journal Health Affairs found that over a year’s time, these medical marijuana states prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses, 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication, and a staggering 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers. These conditions are all among those that medical marijuana is said to treat.

Medical marijuana is well known for its effect on chronic pain, and this growing knowledge can be intimidating to pharma sales reps. With there already being a decline in pain management drugs, the outlook for opioids seems to be on a continuing downward slope.

The Opioid Crisis

Along with the legalization of medical marijuana hurting prescription painkiller sales, the opioid crisis in America is on the rise. A study done by the CDC in 2014 showed that from 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million people overdosed on drugs. The high number of overdoses is greatly influenced by the 78 Americans who die every day from an opioid overdose. The same CDC report showed the amount of overdoses was at a record high in 2014.

These overwhelming death rates are considered an epidemic by the CDC. The seriousness of this overdosing epidemic combined with the legalization of medical marijuana is motivating providers in legalized states to rely more on cannabis than prescription painkillers.

Moving Forward

If the opioid crisis death tolls continue to rise and medical marijuana is legalized in more states, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that some painkillers will get phased out of doctor’s prescription pads. This change could lead to many modifications in the field of pharmaceutical sales.

In a June article, The Harvard Business Review suggested making the sales force a grassroots, public health army working for the highest grade of health outcome in patients and the community and taking the focus farther away from accruing sales dollars. With our 2016 Med Sales Rep Job Satisfaction Report revealing medical sales reps like the meaning behind their work, and the ability to make an impact and relationships with providers and patients, a health conscious movement serves as a fitting incentive for reps everywhere.

The increase in medical marijuana use and decrease in opioid prescriptions may be intimidating to those working in pharma sales, but the change could realign sales reps with their passion for this profession. It might just be time we consider a world where sales reps are given incentives tied to health outcomes, not rewarded solely on financial sales.

What are your projections about the effects of medical marijuana on opioid sales? Tell us in the comments!

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