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The hidden cost of free drugs

 In an interesting study that will hopefully get wide attention, Wake Forest University researchers found that giving patients free drug samples from pharmaceutical companies can end up costing the uninsured more in the long term.

The problem, according to the authors, is that doctors give patients free samples of the latest brand-name drugs that pharma companies drop off at the office. When uninsured patients return for a refill the doctor is likely to prescribe the same brand-name drug instead of a generic alternative, the study finds.

Numerous studies have found that even small gifts from drug companies — pens, notepads, wall clocks — can influence the prescribing behavior of doctors. But these findings from Wake Forest are pretty surprising because one would assume that free samples help uninsured patients save money.

There is now plenty of evidence that doctors should reject freebies from pharma. It just leads to the overuse of brand-name pills and spiraling drug costs.

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