Introduction

Physicians in the US are often tempted with freebies from pharmaceutical companies trying to market their drugs and treatments.  These freebies range from office lunches and supplies to more extravagant, all-expense-paid getaways to luxury training and conference locations. Although these have been limited in recent years by legislation, the practice of handing out free drug samples is still prevalent in the industry. The power of persuasion is a strong driving force behind the marketing strategy of pharmaceuticals to give items and free drug samples away. The patients in a medical practice may not be aware of the full extent of freebies and reliance on free drug samples given to the physician.

One must consider the repercussions of such freebies on the physician’s unbiased decision-making ability. Are drugs prescribed on merit and true value or are they merely prescribed based on the marketing principle of freebies?

Background

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars each year handing out freebies to US physicians. It has been shown that a physician is more likely to prescribe a name brand drug, offered initially as a free sample, regardless of cheaper alternatives.

Recently India passed a law that will require physicians to pay income taxes on pharmaceutical freebies. This law is an amendment in response to an original law that prohibited physicians in India from accepting pharmaceutical freebies. This newer law is put into place to curtail the influence of the pharmaceutical company on the physician.

Even though in the US the amount of monetary freebies has been reduced, it has not completely vanished. The influence of freebies on physicians is a clear concern especially in the common practice of receiving free drug samples. Should the US adopt measures to force disclosure of freebies, including free drug samples, accepted by physicians?

Issue

Should the FDA enforce regulations requiring physicians to disclose to patients when they receive pharmaceutical drug samples?

Rule

There should be regulation put on physicians who accept freebies including free drug samples to fully disclose the acceptance of these freebies to patients if:

  • Physicians who receive freebies from pharmaceutical companies are influenced by the company
  • Patients of physicians who receive freebies have reduced drug options

Analysis

There is a clear campaign in India to reduce the influence of pharmaceuticals over a physician’s decision-making ability when it comes to choosing a drug treatment for a patient in an unbiased manner. Likewise, there is a push in the US to stop physicians from accepting freebies. Even the smallest of gifts or free drug samples ultimately will influence a physician’s decision over which drug to prescribe to a patient. In the US, the amount of visits a physician receives per month from a pharmaceutical representative is growing. At the same time, concern of the influential power pharmaceuticals have is also growing.

The quality of patient care is a major factor when considering the pros and cons of receiving free drug samples. Though, many may argue that the free drug samples are needed to support a gap in the low income families who rely on free samples as a means to continue a treatment plan. It has been shown that this is not case. The majority of the patients who do receive the benefits of the free drug samples are higher income and/or individuals with continued health insurance that will cover the cost of the higher name brand drug.

Conclusion

As long as pharmaceutical companies are allowed to continue with the marketing practice of handing out freebies and free drug samples, they will continue to play an influential role in the decision-making process of the physician. Although many patients look to free drug samples, the FDA should do its part in protecting these patients. Full disclosure of the volume and frequency that free drug samples are accepted and used would promote equality among drug selections for final treatment. This would hinder a company’s influence over the end patient treatment plan and allow for other drug options, not given as freebies, to be considered.

For more information on this issue, contact the Kulkarni Law Firm.