Most Drug Marketing is to Doctors

In 2007 drug makers handed out about 240 million drug samples worth an estimated $3 billion.

A December 2009 Congressional Budget Office analysis pegged drug marketing at nearly $21 billion annually. Keep in mind consumers only pay about one-quarter of their prescription drug bills directly. Third-party insurers, employer plans and government pay about three-quarters of drug expenditure. This might explain why the bulk of drug marketing — nearly two-thirds of it — is to doctors. Marketing to patients through direct-to-consumer ads and free drug samples costs around $7.7 billion annually.


Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Bruce says:

    It’s obvious who the real customer is. And it’s not the patient.

  2. Tom H. says:

    That seems like an enormous amount of money. All for advertising. But I guess free samples utlimately are taken by patients. So you could think of it as free health care.

  3. Vicki says:

    Doctors, of course, give these samples to their patients. And am I correct in assuming that they often give larger quatities to patients with lower incomes?

  4. Devon Herrick says:

    Prior to 1997, all drug company advertising was targeted to doctors. It was not legal to market directly to consumers. Direct-to-consumer drug advertising is still controversial in some quarters.

    A new promotional gimmick is to offer patients drug company debit cards to offset co-payments. The idea is to nullify the effect of higher copays for choosing name brand drugs over generic drugs in a health plan formulary.

  5. Linda Gorman says:

    Samples have value beyond advertising. They let doctor and patient test drive a drug. People prefer to test drive cars before they buy, why not do the same with drugs? Some drugs simply don’t work well for some people in some situations.

    Another benefit from samples is that they can be used to lower the cost of drugs to patients. When taking a long-term, it is not uncommon to leave a routine checkup with a few sample packets that can shave 5-10% off the annual cost.

    Naturally we won’t hear much about these two points as the aim in the public debate is to pummel drug companies so that the citizenry will be happy to deliver control over the marketing and distribution of prescription drugs to our supremely competent federal and state bureaucracies.

  6. Devon Herrick says:

    Linda’s comment is definitely something to consider. Samples serve an important purpose. In my policy reports “Shopping for Drugs” I advise patients on how to become more savvy drug consumers. I always explain that free samples benefit patients by letting them try out expensive medications – and sometimes even lower the cost of medications they desperately need. However, patients need to be aware there are (often) numerous drugs to treat any given condition. When starting a new drug therapy, patients should speak with their doctors not only about trying samples of various name brand drugs, but also about potential generic drug therapies that may work for them. That way they can compare costs and benefits of more than one therapy.

  7. Virginia says:

    Don’t drug dealers (the illegal kind) give kids “free” samples of drugs to get them hooked? Just wondering.

  8. Linda Gorman says:

    So because they give samples, there is no difference between physicians, patients, and pharmaceutical companies involved in the sale and distribution of prescription drugs and criminal dealers in illegal drugs?

    I don’t have to wonder; that analogy most certainly does not work for me.

  9. John R. Graham says:

    It’s not clear in the article how they value the samples. Is it the variable cost of manufacturing and distribution? The total cost (including allocating fixed costs)? Average Wholesale Price? Prices paid by Medicare, or Medicaid, or private insurers?

    Because brand-name drugs have a very high gross margin, any estimate of the dollar value of samples needs to make clear what it means by “cost”.

  10. Devon Herrick says:

    I suspect drug companies estimate the value of free samples at a function of Average Wholesale Price (AWP) — which roughly corresponds to retail price. Of course, that would inflate the dollar value of drugs provided to patients.

  11. Alfof says:

    ■ I agree to follow all laws rigardeng illegal drugs and alcohol■ I agree to say “no” to illegal drug use and “yes” to making positive choices■ I agree to ignore or eliminate negative peer pressure■ I agree to surround myself with other people who say “no” to illegal drug use■ I agree to place a high value in my life’s choices and futureIf you agree to the above and want to take the Delavan Drug Task Force Pledge which includes the above guidelines listed above.Dr. Mary N. Parker, Delavan CUSD 703 Superintendent