Mike the Mad Biologist

Free Samples in Medicine: FAIL?

A recent PLoS Medicine paper suggests so:

Everybody likes something free, and free prescription drug samples are no exception. Patients love to receive them, and doctors feel good about handing them out. The practice of providing free drug samples is based on the tacit assumption that “sampling” does much more good than harm. In two separate news releases within the past year by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade organization that represents the country’s largest and leading drug companies, a senior vice president claimed that free samples improve patient care, foster appropriate medication use, and help millions of financially struggling patients. He averred further that samples benefit physicians by exposing them to new treatment options. In this essay, we question the assumption that good trumps harm when prescription drugs are provided free to practicing doctors. We argue that “sampling” is not effective in improving drug access for the indigent, does not promote rational drug use, and raises the cost of care.

The authors admit this is harder than it would first appear:

It is unrealistic to expect pharmaceutical companies to give up one of their most potent marketing techniques voluntarily. Thus, if we are convinced that using free samples is counterproductive in terms of the quality and cost of care, only the medical profession can seek a halt to the practice. The voucher approach is an improvement over our current method of sample distribution, but we favor having our institutions eliminate the use of samples. We call on medical societies, including the American Medical Association, to educate their practitioner members about alternatives to free samples and to re-examine their guidelines on acceptance of samples.

The tradition of physicians dispensing samples has many serious disadvantages and is as anachronistic as bloodletting and high colonic irrigations. As the profession begins to slowly extract itself from the influential grip of industry, it must also deal with the undue influence of free samples.

Maybe some of that $2 trillion in ‘voluntary’ health care savings could go towards buying medicine for people.

TEH SOCIALISMZ!!

Cited article: Chimonas S, Kassirer JP, 2009 No More Free Drug Samples?. PLoS Med 6(5): e1000074. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000074

Comments

  1. #1 natural cynic
    May 13, 2009

    Probably the most interesting thing in the PLoS was the fact that fewer of the free samples went to the people that could best take advantage of the system [the poor and uninsured]. Samples more often ended in the hands of the well-insured and relatively wealthy. What a marketing strategy – get the rich folks going on the new, expensive stuff so that Big Pharma can rake in more profits.

    However, as one of the uninsured, I have only a teensy twinge of guilt for taking advantage of the samples supplied to me. I am quite willing to take generics, however the categories of meds that I need are not available as generics [an ARB and an appropriate CCB]. Absent a reasonable and rational national health plan, I just go with the easiest source.

  2. #2 llewelly
    May 15, 2009

    Samples more often ended in the hands of the well-insured and relatively wealthy.

    The marketeers of pharma must have read this paper and thought: “Good, it’s working just like we planned…”

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