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Legislation Would Donate Unused Meds To Those In Need

Liz West - Flickr / CC-by 2.0

A proposal in the Illinois House would allow people to donate their unused prescriptions and medical supplies to people who can’t afford them.

The legislation would create the Prescription Drug Repository Program, which would collect individuals’ unopened, unexpired medication and re-dispense it to patients in need.

Currently, only licensed healthcare facilities can donate medication. Prescriptions that go unused by individuals are supposed to be destroyed.

“We’re taking very high cost medications — it may be $15,000, $30,000 per box or vial — and literally lighting that on fire,” said Shannon Rotolo, a specialty pharmacist at University of Chicago Medicine.

She told lawmakers about a 70-year-old patient who can’t afford antibiotic treatment.

“I have another patient — right now, today — who has that medication in her fridge, [who’s] not going to use it. I have no legal pathway to get that medicine from her fridge to his fridge,” Rotolo said. “Hers is going to end up in an incinerator and he’s going to continue to not get the therapy that he needs.”

Alan Hutchison is a medical student at the University of Chicago. He previously volunteered at a medical clinic in a homeless shelter.

“We saw multiple patients suffering from asthma exacerbation and skin infections,” he said. “Thankfully, we had community clinics that donated samples and unused meds to us. Without these medications, we would have had to send them to the emergency room, where they would have gotten the same care, the same drugs at an astronomical cost.”

Hutchison said donated medications can save local hospitals between $600 and $2,000 per patient in annual costs.

Twelve Baskets Full, a prescription drug redistribution center in Springfield, gets most of its medication from prisons and long-term care facilities.

“Inmates at correctional facilities may need medications like antibiotics or hypertension medications prescribed to them, but when that inmate is discharged or transferred, that medication can’t be prescribed to another inmate and is typically destroyed by the facility,” said Roderick Matticks, the organization’s president and CEO.

Matticks said Twelve Baskets Full has donated more than one million doses of medication across 16 countries since opening in 2015. But there’s strict guidelines for what donations they can take.

“Any medications that have left the properly documented chain of custody or have been opened are off limits,” he said. “The organization will not yet take any controlled substances, medications that require refrigeration or any medication from individual citizens.”

The proposed Prescription Drug Repository Program would clear many of these hurdles, Matticks said, in addition to accepting psychiatric medication.

Supporters of the legislation also argue unused medication poses an environmental threat. They told lawmakers 70 percent of waterways used for drinking water contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals.

The legislation is House Bill 3232.

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