Former Nurse Stands By 'Humane' Drug Recycling Ring

By McCarton Ackerman 12/04/14

Nurse Carol Glenn shipped millions of dollars worth of unwanted HIV/AIDS medications to impoverished countries.

nurse carol glenn.jpg
The clinic where Glenn worked.
Photo via

A former Seattle nurse who orchestrated a “humane” international drug trafficking ring of HIV medication says that she was trying to help others when nobody else would.

Carol Glenn worked a nurse during the height of the AIDS crisis in the early ‘90s. She noticed that many of the HIV/AIDS treatments for patients at the hospital went unused and were often disposed of, so she took matters into her own hands with an international drug recycling campaign. Over the next two decades, she facilitated shipping millions of dollars in HIV/AIDS treatments, basic medications, and medical supplies to needy people in impoverished locations around the world.

“We knew it was illegal—although there were literally probably well over 100 people participating," said Glenn. “But nobody said anything about it.”

Using the code words—“Bringing Carol Her Lunch”—people started giving Glenn their unused drugs in paper bags with “Carol” written on them. She quietly gained a reputation in global health circles and the efforts of her campaign reached as far as Somalia and Kenya.

Some believe, however, that her behavior was reckless not only because it wasn’t sanctioned, but she also may have inadvertently been supplying people with expired or improperly administered drugs. Glenn said she knew this was a possibility, but believes that the recycled medications were still effective after their expiration date.

But when Michael Chung, a doctor at an AIDS clinic in Kenya, praised her in his speech at World AIDS Day at the University of Washington in late 2009, her cover was blown. Her employers at Harborview’s Madison Clinic noted in October 2010 that she had been formally warned to stop drug recycling on two occasions. When she simply couldn’t bring herself to do this, Glenn resigned from her position in December 2010.

That decision effectively forced the now 65-year-old into early retirement. Glenn said many of her former co-workers and friends have shunned her over the drug recycling campaign, but said she believes she did the right thing.

“The first thing in the Hippocratic Oath is ‘first do no harm,’" she said. ”If you have the ability to make a difference or save someone’s life, and you withhold that medication, to me that’s doing harm.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.