A new study suggests that free drug samples, an effective marketing tool for the drug industry, do little to help the poor and may put children’s health at risk. The study, being published last month in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed an in-depth survey conducted in 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked people how they got health care. As part of the survey, respondents were asked if they received free drug samples. It was found that children in the lowest income group were no more likely to receive the samples than were those in the highest income group, in part because the poor are less likely to see doctors.
Once in a doctor’s office, children who lack health insurance are more likely to receive free drug samples than their well-insured counterparts, the study reported. But of greater concern, the authors wrote, are the kinds of drug samples that doctors provide. In 2004, the year of the CDC survey, more than 500,000 children received samples of four medicines that were later the subject of serious safety warnings required by the FDA: Advair, for asthma; Adderall and Strattera, both for attention deficit disorder; and Elidel, for eczema.
Elidel, for example, was given to the parents of more than 38,000 children under age two. The FDA later received reports of skin cancer in patients who took Elidel. Although the agency was not sure whether the drug was to blame, the drug’s label got a strong warning and a reminder that it was not approved for use in children under two. The study’s lead author, Dr. Sarah L. Cutrona, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times in an interview that the drugs provided as free samples tended to be the newest, so their safety had often not been thoroughly vetted. Samples also often lack instructions for children or information about what parents should do in the event of an overdose. Dr. Cutrona said more research was needed on the risks and benefits of samples and that doctors should perhaps “consider stopping the use of free samples entirely, if there are such potential harms.”
I don’t believe that free samples should be allowed to play any significant role in doctors’ decision-making when it comes to patient care. Treatment decisions shouldn’t be influenced by sales representatives using any sort of “marketing technique.” Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s health research group and a fierce opponent of free drug samples, says the practice encouraged doctors “to overuse dangerous drugs.”
Source: New York Times
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