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The Downside of Free Drug Samples

Many hospitals and clinics have started banning free drug samples and stopped inviting drug company sales representatives because they say that free drug samples create more harm than good.

According to a feature article in the New York Times: "“The doctor will say, ‘Here, start on this, and let’s see how it works,’ ? said David J. Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, a research group at Columbia. “The question to the doctor is: If you didn’t have it in your drawer, would that have been your drug of choice??

Some medical groups and solo practitioners have also changed their policies. Dr. Jonathan Mohrer, an internist in Forest Hills, Queens, said he closed his sample cabinet in part because his office was overrun with sales representatives. “It was totally spinning out of control,? Dr. Mohrer said. “They were meeting each other and schmoozing in the waiting room — it was like a party.?

His office staff had to spend time arranging the cabinet, throwing out expired medications and rummaging around for the right drug. Patients were kept waiting while sales representatives were whisked in.

But there’s an upside to the samples. Using samples, a doctor can see if a patient can tolerate a new medication before the patient goes out and buys a 30-day supply. Physicians who treat poor people like to have samples on hand for them, and for uninsured patients.

Samples also provide patients with the convenience of one-stop shopping, said Dr. Hema A. Sundaram, a dermatologist in suburban Washington. “Usually a patient has waited some time to see a doctor and rearranged their whole working schedule, and then it may be another four or five days before they can fill a prescription,? she said. “They’re often busy, working people, with family responsibilities. I feel there shouldn’t be any further delay.? (Dr. Sundaram acknowledges that she is paid for speaking on behalf of drug companies.)

A 1995 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 11 percent of the statements drug company representatives made during presentations were inaccurate, and all of the inaccuracies were skewed in favor of their products."

Moral of the story from this article: ask your physician about the nature of the drug and why they're giving it to you as a free sample.