Objectives: Free prescription drug samples are used widely in the United States. We sought to examine characteristics of free drug sample recipients nationwide.
Methods: We analyzed data on 32681 US residents from the 2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a nationally representative survey.
Results: In 2003, 12% of Americans received at least 1 free sample. A higher proportion of persons who had continuous health insurance received a free sample (12.9%) than did persons who were uninsured for part or all of the year (9.9%; P<.001). The poorest third of respondents were less likely to receive free samples than were those with incomes at 400% of the federal poverty level or higher. After we controlled for demographic factors, we found that neither insurance status nor income were predictors of the receipt of drug samples. Persons who were uninsured all or part of the year were no more likely to receive free samples (odds ratio [OR]=0.98; 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.087, 1.11) than those who were continuously insured.
Conclusions: Poor and uninsured Americans are less likely than wealthy or insured Americans to receive free drug samples. Our findings suggest that free drug samples serve as a marketing tool, not as a safety net.