Tons of Unused Rx Drugs Can Go to Patients in Need Instead of Being Tossed

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Tons of Unused Rx Drugs Can Go to Patients in Need Instead of Being Tossed

By Victoria Kim 12/06/17

Millions of dollars of prescription drugs are wasted every day by nursing homes.

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pills thrown out in toilet

Millions of dollars' worth of prescription drugs are being flushed down the toilet every year, often literally. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 740 tons of medications are wasted by nursing homes annually. 

When a resident passes away or moves out, the medications are either incinerated en masse or flushed down the toilet. But tossing out large quantities of medications is not only a waste of health care costs, it poses a threat to the environment when flushed drugs end up in the water supply.

In a report from April, ProPublica described the problem in detail, as well as a solution—SafeNetRx, a non-profit organization in Iowa that collects unexpired medications from nursing homes and then redistributes them to patients who otherwise could not afford them.

Now, a couple of other states are considering similar initiatives to SafeNetRx, hoping to improve both access to medications and the bottom line.

Florida is considering a bill to establish is own program based on what SafeNetRx has been doing in Iowa. “All that medicine is perfectly good and perfectly safe,” says Rep. Nicholas Duran (D-Miami), who co-sponsored the bill. “Rather than being burned up, it could be put back to some great use.” 

New Hampshire’s bill would form a commission to determine how to establish a similar program to Iowa’s.

Vermont is also interested in the idea, which aligns with the state’s values that “favors recycling, being environmentally conscious and improving access to medication,” according to Meg O’Donnell, director of government relations at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

Iowa’s drug donation program works on a $600,000 annual budget, according to SafeNetRx CEO Jon Rosmann. The medications are collected, sorted, and distributed to health care providers who can give them to patients for free. But the savings are much higher. The program collected and redistributed $3.4 million worth of medications for the fiscal year 2016. 

There’s also little opportunity for abuse, since the program does not work with controlled substances like oxycodone and fentanyl. 

“I give them a month’s supply if I have it,” says Amber Judge, a patient advocate at a cancer clinic in Des Moines. “They’re so thankful. They’re incredulous.”

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