Why are Drug Samples Disappearing?

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The amount of drug samples provided to physician offices has dramatically decreased since 2007. From the period of time beginning 2007 to 2011, drug makers spent 25% less on drug samples which equates to $2.1 billion¹. What’s behind this precipitous drop?

Naturally, the cost-cutting measures undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry has impacted the number of samples provided by drug representatives. Nonetheless, the savings were not the primary target of the cost-cutting measures. There are at least two other driving factors behind this drastic reduction.

First off, for the past five years the number of sales representatives has been reduced by 30%. While this reduction served as a cost-cutting measure, it was also a necessity as a number of branded drugs had come off patent. This reduction in sales force naturally led to a decrease in drug samples as the number of drug representatives who could provide samples decreased. Interestingly, the 30% reduction in sales force is similar to the 25% decrease in spending on samples. Some doctors have indicated that they have run out of samples on multiple products and had even invited drug representatives into their offices. Of these requests, several doctors have reported not even receiving a call back.

With this changing landscape, some drug manufacturers have turned to technology. Many companies have set up the ability for doctors to order samples electronically. While electronic sampling is growing, it is still uncommon.

The second driving factor is a change in behavior of the target recipients, namely physicians. A current survey found that 23% of physicians refuse to see drug representatives, and nearly half of all physicians will only see drug representatives by appointment. Recent studies uncover a trend in the size of medical practices and their likelihood of accepting samples. The larger the medical practice, the less likely they are to accept samples. Many larger medical practices have policies against accepting drug samples, especially amongst educational facilities.

One implication of this reduction in drug samples is that more doctors have been prescribing generics in place of the samples. This is especially true for patients who cannot afford the brand alternatives and traditionally relied on samples provided by their physicians.

While drug makers are saving money on drug samples, this may not be to their benefit in the long-run as new products may not be used by physicians since they were unable to try samples of these products. This dynamic is only one of the many complex issues facing the pharmaceutical industry in the near future.

¹Cegedim Strategic Data U.S. Promotion Database, 2011

Author: Rahul Mistry

Rahul Mistry is a veteran of the software industry. Mr. Mistry has two decades experience working in the technology product and services field. He was instrumental in the development of the eCTD REVIEW™ and VALIDATE™ software now used exclusively by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to assess the technical integrity of each drug application the FDA receives.

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