I was surprised by the initial response of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to the American Journal of Public Health study, which concluded that pharmaceutical samples tend to go to well-insured, wealthier patients. PhRMA went out of its way to claim that samples actually do find their way to the poor and that samples are an important part of increasing accessibility to drugs. Brass and Ivory parsed the initial press release.
Samples are marketing tools and no one should pretend otherwise. (See my post on the topic.) No matter the industry, if you can help it you don’t spend marketing dollars to reach people who can’t afford your products. PhRMA should have said that but for some reason they entered the debate on the authors’ terms.
PhRMA’s Ken Johnson has a letter to the editor in today’s USA Today that is not much better. He emphasizes the drug industry’s Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), which strives to increase access to patient assistance programs and other sources of cheap or free drugs. That’s a reasonable point and he should have stopped there.
But for some reason Johnson goes on to tie the PPA and samples together:
Above the billions of dollars in free samples the pharmaceutical research companies distribute to physicians, our companies have provided medicines worth more than $10 billion, in wholesale value, to nearly 5 million struggling Americans since PPA was launched.
If I were running a pharma company I’d be upset at PhRMA for making this linkage.January 10, 2008