Across the United States, millions of adults choose not to fill their medicine prescriptions for the simple reason that they cannot afford them. Many more choose to limit their dosage or skip doses altogether in order to save money, jeopardizing the effectiveness of medicinal treatments and putting their overall health at risk. At the same time, you’ll find drug manufacturers, pharmacies, hospitals, and long-term care facilities destroying unused medicines and supplies by either flushing them down the toilet or incinerating them. All of this adds up to an estimated $5 billion worth of prescription drugs wasted each year, much of which have been bought and paid for with state and federal dollars.
With the current focus on reimagining our healthcare system, it would be an enormous mistake to overlook this kind of overt waste. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states and Guam have enacted laws to allow donation and reuse of unused medicine. Of those, 20 states have active redistribution programs.
One such program in Iowa has been operating since 2007, so far redistributing more than $20 million in medicine and supplies to more than 70,000 patients in need. SafeNetRX, a nonprofit based in Des Moines, collects unused pharmaceutical drugs from nursing homes around the state that would otherwise be disposed of or destroyed once a resident stops using the drug, moves out of care, or passes away. The medicine is then distributed to Iowans whose income is below 200% of the federal poverty level or who are uninsured/underinsured. SafeNetRX is funded by the state of Iowa at a cost of roughly half a million dollars each year; in 2016, the program salvaged and redistributed almost $3.5 million worth of medicine. This year, the organization is on track to save more than $5 million in unused drugs.