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Letter: Free drug samples still come with a price

Unlike the Detroit Lakes newspaper, I would like to congratulate MeritCare Clinic for choosing to stop the practice of giving out free drug samples. Free drug samples are distributed by the representatives of large pharmaceutical corporations and do not come without a price.

The corporations that produce prescription drugs keep us healthy and provide relief for millions of people. We would be at a loss without them. The decision of which drugs to use for any condition, however, should be a decision made between the patient and his doctor. Unfortunately, this decision has to include the cost of purchasing a drug on a monthly basis for several years. A free sample may get you through the first month relatively cheap but when a prescription is written for the continued use of this drug it may not be the least expensive alternative.

Free samples are not given out by pharmaceutical corporations out of the goodness of their hearts. This is an advertising ploy designed to enter into the decision-making process at the point of your initial discussion with your doctor. I would guess corporations have studies to show that if they can get a doctor to write a prescription for a specific drug, the patient will continue to use that drug, without question, for several months.

It is very hard to pin down the actual cost of a drug because it varies so much from pharmacy to pharmacy and country to country. I tracked down two statin drugs (cholesterol lowering) from the same pharmacy on the Internet. These two drugs are used for the same purpose and work in very much the same fashion. In many situations one can be substituted for the other.

Simvastatin (Generic Zocor) -- 20 mg tablets; 90 day supply-0.82/tablet-$73.80

Lipitor -- 20mg tablets; 90 day supply- 3.73/tablet - $335.70

I am not a doctor so please don't take this as a recommendation, but I will let you guess which company is more likely to give you a free sample and which company is bombarding you with hugely expensive television ads.

Medical care is slowly becoming the single most expensive item in many household budgets. These costs have been rising at twice the level of inflation. Many drug companies spend more money on advertising than they do for research and development. Although there is much more that can be done, I applaud MeritCare for taking a stand against unnecessary and wasteful corporate spending in hopes of lowering our medical costs in the long run.

-- Donald Johnson, Detroit Lakes