While free samples of drugs are typically distributed to doctors as a promotional and marketing tool to encourage their use, a new study says children are being hurt by the freebies.
The study published today in the journal Pediatrics, analyzed data collected in 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People were asked if they had received any free drug samples.
While those who didn’t visit doctors were not exposed to the free samples, parents without insurance who would bring their children into clinics often received free samples for drugs such as Advair for asthma; Adderall and Strattera, for attention deficit disorder; and Elidel, for eczema.
Free samples can get relief to a child earlier and save a parent an immediate trip to the pharmacy, but critics say the free samples distort a doctors’ decision making.
Dr. Andrew D. Racine, at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, told the New York Times, “As a physician, the way you should be making treatment decisions should not be based on which sales representatives come to your door,” Dr. Racine said. “This is just a marketing technique.”
The study’s author, Dr. Sarah L. Cutrona from Harvard Medical School says the drugs are generally the newest on the market, so their safety may not be thoroughly understood, especially for children.
For example, Elidel was distributed to the parents of more than 38,000 children under the age of two. Later the FDA received skin cancer adverse reaction reports associated with the drugs’ use.
As a result, the drug’s label was changed to carry an increased warning.
Dr Cutrona says, “We need to discuss it more and maybe consider stopping the use of free samples entirely, if there are such potential harms.”
The study was originally designed to determine whether samples are given primarily to poor and uninsured children. Researchers found that children who were uninsured were no more likely to receive the free samples than those who were insured.
The drug industry’s Ken Johnson, told the New York Times that, “free samples have helped improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, regardless of their income.”
Public Citizen, the consumer group, has long opposed the distribution of free drug samples as a practice that encourages doctors to overuse dangerous drugs.
Generally, as the samples are being distributed to the doctors, the drug sales representatives require doctors to sign a receipt for samples. During that time the reps make their marketing pitches.
A study earlier this year, showed people who were given free samples had higher out-of-pocket costs for drugs, eventually spending 40 percent more on their medications. #