Are free samples a risk to kids?

We've all heard about the studies that link free drug samples with higher spending on pharmaceuticals. Now there's research raising questions about the safety of new-product handouts. Kids who get samples from their doctors could actually be risking safety problems, a study reported in the journal Pediatrics suggests.

What about the argument that free samples help uninsured or underinsured children get the meds they need? Well, the researchers also found that the poor or uninsured were no more likely to get free samples than kids who had greater ability to pay. And samples, of course, tend to be new meds that don't yet have a long-term safety record.

Four of the 15 meds most frequently handed out free to more than 10,000 kids in 2004 later ended up with black-box warnings or other significant changes to their cautionary language, the researchers from Cambridge Health Alliance and Hasbro Children's Hospital found. Dr. Sarah L. Cutrona, lead author and an internal medicine specialist at Cambridge Health Alliance, told the Boston Globe, "Giving free samples to children in non-urgent situations is really an unproven medical practice that should be undertaken very cautiously or perhaps needs to stop."

- read the story in the Globe
- see the U.S. News coverage