State programs recycle medications to combat rising costs

The struggle to curtail the rising medical costs that has led to an increase in state programs that collect unused prescription drugs to give away to the uninsured and poor.

Drugs are typically vetted by pharmacists to cross-check safety then distributed by hospitals, pharmacies or charitable clinics, according to the Associated Press (AP).

The type of drugs donated run the gamut and include antibiotics, antipsychotics, blood thinners and antidepressants, the AP reported.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said at least 33 states have laws to allow or study drug recycling programs, the AP noted. Most state programs are just a few years old or still in the test stages, but officials envision huge gains.

In Iowa, David Fries, CEO of the Iowa Prescription Drug, told the AP that the program has the potential to double or triple in the near future. Officials in Tulsa, Okla., see plenty of room for growth.

A pilot program in Cheyenne, Wyo., last year netted $81,000 in donated drugs to fill 557 prescriptions, the AP reported. State officials said the number represents a small amount of the vast reserves of drugs that go to waste each year. The program is now actively trying to get $180,000 in drugs in reserve online, so it can be accessed by other programs in the state.

Drug recycling programs pay for themselves “by just working with one patient and saving them and keeping them out of the hospital over the long term,” Fries told the AP. Ensuring that a diabetic does not miss her medication, for example, might stave off “eye problems, foot problems, all kinds of medical conditions,” he said.

Between March and December of last year, the AP reported that Iowa's drug recycling program collected 319,000 dosage units worth an estimated $292,000.

However, some states are having trouble getting their drug recycling programs off the ground, according to the AP. In Florida, for example, a program created two years ago to get cancer drugs to the uninsured has languished. Only three of the 300 hospitals eligible to participate have signed up, taking in a total of seven drug donations.

And since drug recycling programs rely on donations, they are not seen as long-term solutions, the AP reported. Yet, when successful, officials said they can help plug gaps in medication for those who live paycheck to paycheck.