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$16.4 billion in free drug samples were distributed to US patients in 2004, up from $4.9 billion in 1996. Samples have been criticized for influencing physicians’ prescribing patterns among other concerns, but drug manufacturers have defended the practice by asserting that many of those drugs go to low-income and uninsured patients who might not otherwise have access to prescriptions. However, a new study found that in 2003, less than one in three sample recipients had incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level and only one in five was uninsured. Hispanics, non-English speakers, and patients born outside the US were also less likely to receive samples. Office-based patients were more likely to receive samples and there is evidence that office-based physicians are targeting their samples to uninsured patients but, as the uninsured are more likely to access care from clinics or not have a usual source of care at all, they are missing out. S. Cutrona, et. al., Am J of Public Health, Feb ’08.

Posted by Ellen Andrews