Study after study has shown that free drug samples inspire doctors to prescribe branded drugs, even when generics are available. But till now we haven't seen numbers comparing physician practices that refuse to accept samples and those that willingly stock their sample closets.
For a study in JAMA Dermatology, researchers compared acne-drug prescriptions written at an academic medical center that doesn't allow free samples with scripts written by office-based dermatologists nationwide. Result? A huge difference in rate of branded prescribing.
As The New York Times reports, only 17% of prescriptions for adult acne meds were for brand-name drugs at the academic medical center, where samples were verboten. In private offices, which tend to hand out free samples, the proportion of branded scripts was 79%.
And according to JAMA Dermatology, the retail cost of top acne drug brands in office-based practices, on a per-office-visit basis, was $465. At the sample-free medical center, the cost was $200.
"Free drug samples can alter the prescribing habits of physicians away from the use of less expensive generic medications," the study authors concluded. "The benefits of free samples in dermatology must be weighed against potential negative effects on prescribing behavior and prescription costs."
Study author Dr. Alfred T. Lane, a professor of dermatology at Stanford, put it more bluntly: "When we were forced to stop using samples, my practice changed," Lane told the NYT.