The ongoing opioid crisis continues to plague the pharmaceutical sales industry with unique challenges.

In fact, more than 63 percent of drug overdoses in 2015 (50,000) were directly caused by opioid abuse, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

Yet, the problem is actually worse than anyone thought. The report found that opioid-related deaths are 24 percent higher than what is reported on death certificates.

This crisis is the indisputable reason for increased regulation and stringent new rules. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for patients who legitimately rely on prescription drugs to get the medicine they need to survive. It’s easy to see why the public view of pharmaceutical sales is, generally, very negative.

These issues have the potential to permanently change the face of the pharma sales industry. Let’s take a deeper look at what you can expect:

1) Increased regulation and rules

As regulation increases, it becomes more difficult to innovate and get new drugs approved. This will affect the ability of companies to generate sales and market existing products, while also inhibiting the production of new, safer drugs.

The decreased revenue would, ultimately, lead to layoffs and corporate closures/downsizing, making it more difficult for pharmaceuticals to be obtained by the end user.

While researchers and law enforcement are working together to find solutions to the opioid crisis, those who have a legitimate need are stuck in the middle. These regulations affect sales on even the most commonly prescribed and least-often abused prescription painkillers, reaching far across the market as doctors become unable or unwilling to write or replace necessary prescriptions.

2) Negative public view of industry   

As it becomes more difficult for patients who rely on these drugs to safely and legally obtain necessary medication, they may be forced to turn to dangerous alternatives.

These alternatives, not directly managed by healthcare professionals, run a high-risk of addiction. Additionally, many patients will suffer through the pain or face more fatal implications due to lack of available medication, all of which further increases the negativity around pharmaceuticals.

A longer process for new drugs to be approved and more rules placed on the sale and distribution of prescription drugs will force pharmaceutical companies to pass the higher costs associated with new and existing drugs onto the consumer. This will require patients to further ‘tighten the belt,’ creating more resentment and animosity toward the industry.

In addition, lawsuits are expected to increase. The attorney general of Ohio has filed suit against five drug companies, accusing them of “misrepresenting the risks of prescription opioid painkillers.” The suit suggests that holding back information plays a role in consumer drug addiction and abuse.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In the latter case, officials in the city of New Haven claim the manufacturers of Oxycontin “engaged in deceptive marketing,” and didn’t disclose full details about the addictive possibilities of their product.

3) Necessary (and unwanted) changes

Already viewed by some in the public as “drug pushers,” reps could now be further demonized. This would take a toll on their work and home life.

As more workers leave the industry due to complications presented by the opioid crisis, those left behind will be subjected to longer hours without increased compensation. Unable and unwilling to shoulder this growing burden, those reps will leave as well, prompting a vicious cycle.

More than 76 percent of medical sales reps surveyed in the 2018 MedReps Best Places to Work said work/life balance is the most important aspect of their jobs. When that line is blurred, these qualified professionals will be forced to look for other opportunities.

A shift in the focus of the industry could also create some undesirable waves. A 2016 perspective published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Reducing the Risks of Relief — The CDC Opioid-Prescribing Guideline) suggested pharmaceutical sales, in the shadow of the opioid crisis, will become more of a grassroots public health campaign, with a higher focus on education — making sales secondary.

Satisfaction would drastically decline for reps who enjoy the selling aspect of the job most or count on the high commission payouts.  

There’s no question that the opioid crisis will continue to threaten the pharmaceutical sales industry. While the future remains uncertain, it’s clear that pharma sales reps are in for some sweeping changes and career soul-searching.

How is your work affected by the opioid crisis? Let us know in the comments!

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