Those least needy most likely to get free drug samples

Jan 04, 2008

Most free drug samples are not used to ease the burden of the poor or the uninsured, but rather go to those most able to pay for their prescriptions, according to a study by physicians from Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School. The study, which is the first to look at the free drug samples pharmaceutical companies provide to physicians, will appear in the February 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The study found that use of free prescription drug samples is widespread, with more than one-in-ten Americans receiving one or more free drug samples in 2003. Almost 20 percent of those surveyed who take at least one prescription drug were given free samples.

Few free samples went to the needy, the study found: insured Americans and those with higher incomes were more likely to report receiving at least one free sample; more than four-fifths of sample recipients were insured all year. Conversely, less than one-fifth were uninsured for all or part of 2003, and less than one-third had low family incomes (under $37,000 for a family of four.)

The study also found that those with better access to medical care were consistently more likely to receive three samples. Non-Hispanics, English-speakers and Whites were all more likely to receive free samples than were members of ethnic, linguistic or racial minorities. Receiving medical care in an office and taking more medications also increased an individual's chances of receiving free drug samples.

Author Sarah Cutrona, a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and an Instructor of Medicine at Harvard commented: "The distribution of free samples has become very controversial. Evidence shows that free samples may influence physicians' prescribing behavior and cause safety problems. For instance, we found that the most widely distributed sample in 2002 was Vioxx, with Celebrex being number 3. These drugs turned out to have lethal side effects. While many doctors still view samples as a safety net for their neediest patients, our study shows that samples are potentially dangerous, and do little for the needy."

David Himmelstein, senior author of the study, a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard adds: "We know that many doctors try to get free samples to needy patients when those patients come into the office. We found that such efforts do not counter society-wide factors that determine access to care and selectively direct free samples to the affluent. Our findings strongly suggest that free drug samples serve as a marketing tool, not as a safety net."

"Free drug samples are not the solution to the disproportionately low amount of health care resources going to the poor and uninsured; they are part of the problem," said Steffie Woolhandler, a physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, and study co-author.

The study used data on 32,681 US residents from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), an annual federal survey. Dr. Cutrona's work on the study was supported under a National Research Service Award.


Source: Harvard Medical School

Explore further: India's meth addiction grows as criminals tap chemical hub

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A narrower spectrum for a wider view of matter

Jul 11, 2014

Condensed matter physicists, who study the physics of solids and liquids, often use a technique called "inelastic scattering," in which they bounce photons or neutrons of selected energy off a material and ...

X-ray imaging reveals a complex core

Jul 04, 2014

Macromolecular complexes composed of self-assembling proteins and nucleic acids hold promise for a wide range of applications, including drug delivery, sensing and molecular electronics. Scientists have developed ...

'Onion' vesicles for drug delivery developed

Jun 10, 2014

One of the defining features of cells is their membranes. Each cell's repository of DNA and protein-making machinery must be kept stable and secure from invaders and toxins. Scientists have attempted to replicate ...

New molecule enables quick drug monitoring

Jun 08, 2014

Monitoring the drug concentration in patients is critical for effective treatment, especially in cases of cancer, heart disease, epilepsy and immunosuppression after organ transplants. However, current methods are expensive, ...

Recommended for you

FDA to start regulating lab-developed tests

2 hours ago

(AP)—The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it will begin regulating laboratory-developed tests, a growing class of medical diagnostics that have never before been subject to federal oversight.

Determine patient preferences by means of conjoint analysis

Jul 29, 2014

The Conjoint Analysis (CA) method is in principle suitable to find out which preferences patients have regarding treatment goals. However, to widely use it in health economic evaluations, some (primarily methodological) issues ...

FDA approves hard-to-abuse narcotic painkiller

Jul 25, 2014

(HealthDay)—A new formulation of a powerful narcotic painkiller that discourages potential abusers from snorting or injecting the drug has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

InfoAboutcom
not rated yet Aug 16, 2008
While I agree that drug samples should be given to low income patients under certain circumstances, some doctors think that giving them a high priced medication they can't afford for free does not benefit them. I found this article on the Health Business Blog about giving free drug samples to patients, rich or poor. http://www.health.../?p=1589