Maybe nothing lasts forever
not the mountains or the sea
but the times we had together
they will always be with me
- The Samples “Nothing Lasts For Long”
It's a potent weapon in pharma's arsenal. But is drug sampling on the way out?
The New York Times has a story today about a handful of leading academic medical centers and physician practices restricting or eliminating drug samples. While the drug industry--or more specifically, the drug industry information providers IMS and Verispan--yesterday prevailed in its quest to overturn New Hampshire law forbidding gathering of physician prescription data there, knowing which docs prescribe which drugs and how often will be of less use if reps can't drop in and drop off drug samples.
This isn't necessarily news: the University of Michigan Health System has banned drug samples since 2002. The upshot? Docs and students there practice "without the influence of drug samples, encouraging them to prescribe higher cost brand name medications when a generic or lower cost brand would work as well." But sampling proponents contend that (among other benefits), freebies can be helpful for patients concerned about costs--after all, a free drug costs less than a drug that's, well, not free.
And a new Booz Allen survey published in IN VIVO shows that it's not just the poorest patients who are affected. As more consumers take on much bigger shares of the health costs, say the consultants, they've started to focus on price, including the price of drugs--often going so far as to reject their doctors' recommendations to save money.
So, sampling is good? Maybe, in some cases. But in general sampling is designed to make money for pharmaceutical companies over the long haul, whether or not it saves patients a few bucks at the outset of treatment. Sadly, there's no such thing as a free drug, most of the time.
Despite a few locked cabinets here and there, drug sampling isn't going away quite yet. But these sampling skirmishes are another issue for primary care drug marketers to worry about. Another reason why the appeal of specialty drugs continues to grow.