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Study questions use of drug samples for children

A new study cautions the use of sample prescription drugs as a treatment plan for children.

The study, which will be published Monday, in the journal Pediatrics, looks in-depth at a 2004 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked people how they got health care. As a part of the survey, they were asked if they received drug samples, according to the New York Times.

The study showed once in a doctor's office, children who did not have health insurance were more likely to receive free drug samples than their insured counterparts, according to the New York Times report.

Four of the 15 medications that were most frequently given out to children as free samples in the 2004 survey later proved to be potentially dangerous, researchers from Cambridge Health Alliance and Hasbro Children's Hospital report in Pediatrics, according to a Boston Globe report.

"I think the safety of free drug samples must further be examined," Dr. Sarah L. Cutrona, lead author and an internal medicine specialist at the Cambridge Health Alliance, said in an interview with the Boston Globe.

More than 500,000 children received samples of Advair, for asthma; Adderall and Strattera, both for attention deficit disorder; and Elidel, for eczema -- all of which were subjects of serious safety warnings by the Food and Drug Administraion, according to the New York Times.

Cutrona said in an interview with the New York Times that drugs given as free samples are often the newest, so their safety has not been investigated as much.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, told the New York Times that "free samples have helped improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, regardless of their income."

Aware that drug samples are a way of marketing, some physicans don't use them at all.

Dr. Andrew D. Racine, director of general pediatrics at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, told the New York Times free samples cloud a doctor's decision-making and that he does not use them as a part of patient care.

"As a physician, the way you should be making treatment decisons should not be based on which sales representatives come to your door," Dr. Racine told the New York Times. "This is just a marketing technique."

Cutrona said no matter what, this is an issue that needs to be looked into further.

"This is an issue that is concerning to me as a physician and a mother," she told the Boston Globe. "I am not a pediatrician but part of what we are trying to do is to get the issue on the radar of pediatricians."