In 1999, physicians received an average of 1,500 samples apiece.
The good news about this practice is that it lets the doctor observe a new drug's effects and it gives patients access to the latest drugs.
A recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that 49 percent of doctors surveyed said they'd used samples that were not their top choice to treat depression. Yet the practice of giving out samples lets the doctor try new things without incurring costs for the patient.
If you're taking samples, keep these points in mind. First look for the drug's expiration date on the package. Second, be sure your pharmacist knows when you're taking a sample so she can keep an eye on its possible interactions with other drugs you take.
Remember, too, that samples often come with hard-to-read information in fine print. So ask a physician, nurse or pharmacist about the specifics of dose and timing.