S. L. Baker
June 3, 2009
Countless U.S. doctors regularly give away free drug samples provided by the pharmaceutical industry to their patients. It’s a practice that may simply seem, at first glance, like an altruistic way to help sick people save money. However, two academics have written a report just published in PLoS Medicinethat lambasts this tradition as not only costly in the long run but downright dangerous to the health of patients.
Researcher Susan Chimonas of the Center on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University, and Jerome Kassirer, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a distinguished professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, call handing out free drug samples as “anachronistic as bloodletting…” They also say the practice is “not effective in improving drug access for the indigent, does not promote rational drug use, and raises the cost of care.”
That’s just the opposite of the hype Big Pharma has been putting out for years. The pharmaceutical giants have longed claimed that providing free drug starter packs is a type of public service that allows drug companies to help patients who are struggling financially. But Dr. Chimonas and Dr. Kassirer point to research that documents the fact that low-income, uninsured patients actually are less likely to receive free samples of medications than patients who have great insurance coverage. What’s more, the researchers point out in their report that drug samples frequently “are appropriated by physicians for personal or family use.”
In addition, the PLoS Medicine article notes that one study concluded nearly half of pharmaceutical sales representatives surveyed admitted to taking drug samples themselves and/or handing them out for their friends and relatives to use. According to Dr. Chimonas and Dr. Kassirer, these findings show that prescription drug samples often reach people they weren’t intended for — and the obvious result is that these medications are frequently misused and abused.