A new study suggests that free drug samples, which are used as an effective marketing tool by the drug industry, do little to help the poor and may put children’s health at risk.
The study analyzed an in-depth survey conducted in 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked people how they got health care. Children in the lowest income group were no more likely to receive the samples than were those in the highest income group, in part because the poor are less likely to see doctors. Once in a doctor’s office, however, children who lack health insurance are more likely to receive free drug samples than their well-insured counterparts.
But the drugs provided as free samples tend to be the newest varieties, so their safety has often not been thoroughly vetted. In 2004, the year of the CDC survey, more than 500,000 children received samples of four medicines that were later the subject of serious safety warnings required by the Food and Drug Administration: Advair, for asthma; Adderall and Strattera, for attention deficit disorder; and Elidel, for eczema.
Elidel was given to the parents of more than 38,000 children under age 2. The FDA later received reports of skin cancer in patients who took Elidel.
* New York Times October 6, 2008