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Most Free Drug Samples Go to Wealthy and Insured
Date:1/3/2008

Study undercuts notion that they're given to help the poor, some experts say,,

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Most free drug samples go to wealthy and insured patients, not to the poor and uninsured who may need them most, Harvard researchers report.

In fact, more than four-fifths of those who receive samples are insured, while less than one-fifth are uninsured and less than one-third have low incomes (below $37,000 for a family of four), the researchers found.

"Free drug samples influence prescribing and also introduce potential safety problems," said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Cutrona, a physician with the Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. "Despite these problems, many doctors support the program because [they say] free samples 'allow us to get free medications to our neediest patients,' " she said.

However, most free samples don't go to the neediest patients, Cutrona's group found.

In the study, Cutrona's team collected data on almost 33,000 people who participate in the annual Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. The researchers reported their findings in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers found that the use of free drug samples is widespread, with more than 12 percent of Americans receiving one or more free drug samples in 2003. In addition, among those taking at least one prescription drug, 18.7 percent got free samples.

A study in the April 26, 2007, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that 78 percent of doctors received free drug samples and 94 percent had some relationship with pharmaceutical companies.

However, few free samples went to the needy, Cutrona and her colleagues found. In fact, those who received free samples were those with better access to medical care. Whites and people who spoke English were also more likely to receive fre
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