To the best of my knowledge, drug samples are meant to be given to patients for trials. To see which medication works best for you. Samples were given regardless if you’re insured or uninsured, rich or poor. Let’s say I’m coming in for allergy. Instead of prescribing something right away -for example Allegra- which may not work, given samples -let’s say Zyrtec- to try is really helpful.     

But some people like to take advantage of free samples. Patients and also sadly, clinic’s employee, love to ask for samples even though they’re not being seen by a physician. When I first started working here, I voiced my concern about this, and the reply from a co-worker was, “Don’t worry about it. Everybody’s doing it.” I don’t mean to be all hollier than thou but it really bugs me. I understand medicines are costly, that’s why we have medical/health insurance, but taking drug samples on monthly basis? C’mon

I noticed there are three different types of drug sample requestors. The first one is what I call ‘In Betweens’. Patients who are out of meds refills but couldn’t get in to see physicians soon enough. They’ll be out of meds until appointment date, but don’t want to pay for short-period refills. Typically, they’d call and say, “I couldn’t get in to see Dr. X until 3 weeks from yesterday but I’m going to be out of meds. Do you guys have any samples to get me through my appointment date?”

The second type is the ‘Flip Floppers’. Those who think a medicine should be able to cure the sickness in 24 hour. “The sample given yesterday by Dr. A isn’t working; I still feel bad. Can I get a different sample?” Or patients who don’t like the way some medicines ‘work’. “The sample given by Dr. B a week ago is working for my depression, but it’s making me gained a few pounds. Could I get a different sample?” For one, medicines do need some time to ‘kick in’, even antibiotics. A lot of things need to be considered when you’re trying on samples; like if you’re diabetic or have blood pressure problems. And especially if you’re on so many different meds. There’s no such thing as ‘the magic pill’.

The worst one is the ‘Freeloaders’. I understand why the uninsured ones are doing this, but the ones with insurance? Unbelievable. Some scenarios:  

  • “Hey, can I speak to Jane (Dr. X’s nurse)? This is John. I need my monthly samples for Lipitor 20 mg. I’ll swing by tomorrow around noon to pick it up.”
  • “Hello, this is Mrs. so and so. Mary (Dr. Y’s nurse) told me that anytime I need more Nexium, I could call you guys and she’ll give me a bag of it.”
  • “Is Dr Z’s nurse available? I need my monthly samples.”

And a hundred more different ways of them requesting free samples. The very frustrating part is, some of them have insurances. And how do I know this? It’s there in the patient’s database. So when I couldn’t resist the frustration, I just asked, “Oh? You need samples again? Do you not have health insurance? What’s that? Oh, you do. Any problem with the insurance or something?”

Sad thing is, our clinic’s employee are doing it too; for themselves and/or family members. Almost everybody. They are as bad as those naughty patients. 

When I had my pap smear appointment, I was offered by the midwife to take home some samples of birth control pills. I was ‘in between’. I told her I feel bad taking free samples from people who need it more than me. She said it’s OK and that I as an employee have ‘the right’. Still doesn’t feel right; so I said ‘no’. I don’t feel it’s right for me that just because I work for the clinic, I’m entitled to gorged myself with samples. I do take Advil or Tylenol samples from time to time when I have a tension headache at work from time to time. But not on a regular basis and for more ‘serious’ medicine. 

This source shows that patients with the highest incomes were the most likely to get free samples, according to a survey of nearly 33,000 Americans in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Only 28% of those who got samples were poor, whether insured or not, with incomes less than twice the federal poverty level — $18,400 for a family of four in 2003, when the survey was taken. The study doesn’t suggest doctors deliberately discriminate against the poor. Study author Sarah Cutrona, a hospital doctor with Cambridge Health Alliance in the Boston area and an instructor at Harvard Medical School Cutrona says many poor and uninsured people never get to see a doctor and more often visit public health clinics or emergency rooms, where samples may not be available, or go without care.

And here I am, just got done talking to a patient who requested her monthly free samples of Cymbalta. Tsktsk