Drug Free

Clinics that treat the poor rely on free medical samples, but pharmaceuticals say there's got to be a better way.

The feast-or-famine nature of free sample availability can have unfortunate side effects. Campbell tells how they've had to prescribe a more potent than necessary antibiotic sample because it was the only thing available at the time. Says Amanda Maust, La Clinica's manager: "A lot of the time, samples are great as something to start patients off, but there isn't any left when they come back."

The fact that La Clinica prescribes samples for long periods of time occasionally makes for a peculiar scene. Because the pills are packaged individually in bulky cardboard or plastic, patients are sometimes forced to carry medicine that would normally fit in a small pill bottle out by the armful.

Campbell believes the people he and his staff treat, almost all of whom are undocumented immigrants, wouldn't be forced to go to such lengths if the pharmaceutical industry realized the economic benefits of providing samples to doctors at low-income clinics.

Amanda Maust, RN, La Clinica's manager of clinical operations, near the shelves that hold free samples of prescription drugs for low-income patients. But the shelves might not always remain well stocked.
Jennifer Silverberg
Amanda Maust, RN, La Clinica's manager of clinical operations, near the shelves that hold free samples of prescription drugs for low-income patients. But the shelves might not always remain well stocked.

"Even though we're talking boxes of samples to give someone a month's supply, we're seeing first hand the therapeutic effectiveness of it," he says. "I don't know if they realize that because of that we're more likely to prescribe it in our private practices to patients with insurance."

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