Beware of free e-sample prescription drugs

Washington, Nov 27 ( When you are searching the net to learn about your asthma or high cholesterol, odds are you’ll be directed to a pharma company-sponsored webpage. There you’ll often find an offer for a free sample. It’s a good idea not to try the sample, according to research.

The study was led by William G. Weppner, University of Washington (UW) department of medicine and Veterans Affairs Medical Centre in Boise, Idaho.

The results showed that the value of such introductory offers is low compared with the retail cost the patient will pay to continue taking the brand-name medication, and in most cases a less-expensive generic equivalent is not available.

The researchers also found that information on efficacy, safety and side effects was de-emphasized, compared to the positioning of the free offer.

The benefits of the medication were described in a general way, and some included patient testimonials. Quantitative information on the medication’s indications for use, effectiveness and risks were rarely presented.

The US has permitted the advertising of prescription drugs directly to consumers for the past 12 years. Except for New Zealand, no other nation allows it.

“Many of these discounts are aimed at co-pays, which could increase costs to consumers via health insurance premiums,” Weppner said.

The paper noted that among the 50 most prescribed medications of 2007 more than half have such Internet offers. The researchers pointed to a prior study of print ads which found that 13 percent of the ads directed a discount offer to patients.

Patients typically must present the coupon or voucher to a prescribing healthcare provider to obtain a prescription, and then give the coupon and prescription to a pharmacist.

The researchers cited evidence that clinicians’ decisions to prescribe specific medication may be influenced by patient requests based on direct-to-consumer advertisements and by the availability of samples, a UW release said.

The article was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.