Free medication samples influence physicians’ prescribing habits

The Los Angeles Times “Science Now” blog reports that according to a study published in JAMA Dermatology, “free samples of prescription drugs may seem like a great deal for patients.” However, even when physicians “think they’re doing patients a favor by handing out the freebies, the real beneficiaries are the drug manufacturers.”

Using survey data derived from the National Disease and Therapeutic Index, investigators found that “dermatologists were especially likely to give free samples to their adult acne patients – 25% of their prescriptions came with a free sample in 2010, up from 10% in 2001.”

The NBC News website reports that physicians “were more likely to prescribe medications if they also were distributing free samples of those drugs,” and that physicians “who gave samples were giving patients more frequently prescribed brand-name drugs instead of cheaper generics.”

The study indicated that “the average cost (before insurance) for acne prescriptions was more than twice as high for doctors in a non-academic setting — $465 vs $200.”

The NPR “Shots” blog points out that researchers also found that “about 18 percent of all drugs prescribed in dermatology in 2010 started with free samples,” while just “four percent of medications in all other specialties started with freebies.”

The study “adds to the growing evidence that free handouts may influence doctors’ prescribing habits – and the type of medications people request.”

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