San Jose Drug Donation Pharmacy Opens Its Doors
After a ten-year process, the Better Health Pharmacy in San Jose finally opened its doors as California’s first official drug-donation pharmacy. Ultimately, the goal of this organization is to provide citizens that cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions access to the medication they need at absolutely no cost. This program relies on donations of unused, unopened, and unexpired prescriptions from state-regulated facilities, such as licensed clinics and hospitals, in order to provide their patients with what they need. In the process of doing so, the Better Health Pharmacy also prevents these chemicals from polluting the airways, landfills, and waterways and saves taxpayers and healthcare facilities a great deal of money.
A California law passed in 2005 gave permission to different counties to accept and redistribute unexpired prescription medications in unopened, tamper-evident packaging. Prescriptions can only be donated by facilities that are legally authorized to manufacture and sell pharmaceutical medications, and cannot be accepted if they have been in the possession of a citizen or individual without proper licensure. This law made it possible for volunteers in San Jose to begin serving county health facilities exclusively in 2008 out of Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department Pharmacy. In September of 2012, the state passed a bill which expanded the terms of the 2005 prescription drug donation and distribution law, allowing the program that had begun in 2008 to expand to eventually become the Better Health Pharmacy. Since the inception of the program, the volunteers have connected patients with over 8,700 prescriptions, which amounts to more than $400,000 in savings.
SIRUM, a nonprofit organization founded by students from Stanford University provides logistics and tools that allow for the safe donation of unused prescriptions, and therefore serves as a major connection between donating facilities and recipient safety-net clinics. Programs like SIRUM have introduced the Better Health Pharmacy to over 150 donating health facilities that keep the pharmacy well stocked. Upon arrival at the clinic, all donated medications are inspected by on-site pharmacists to ensure safety before they are dispensed.
The Better Health Pharmacy receives donations of prescriptions that treat asthma, diabetes, and countless other ailments. The pharmacy does not accept nor dispense prescriptions for controlled substances such as narcotic painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin; anti-anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium; and ADHD/ADD medications like Adderall or Ritalin. Patients can check an online listing to see if the prescription they need is available at the pharmacy before they go, and there are no copays required. All that patients need to bring with them is a valid prescription and form of identification.
Drug donation programs offer a variety of key benefits to patients, healthcare facilities, taxpayers, and citizens at large. Patients that had been forced to decide between paying for groceries or prescriptions in previous months no longer have to make those decisions, and can trust that they will receive the medication they need. An estimated seven percent of people in surrounding Santa Clara County are uninsured, and can now receive help acquiring the prescriptions they require without having to worry about how they are going to pay for them. The Better Health Pharmacy will also provide great relief to those that rely on Medicare, for there are a number of gaps when it comes to insurance coverage of certain prescriptions that require patients to pay out of pocket.
The program also prevents massive amounts of toxic waste from being dumped into landfills, released into air and waterways, and otherwise posing as a threat to the environment. Healthcare facilities benefit as well, for they no longer have to pay to have these prescriptions properly disposed. Additionally, recycling unused prescriptions that would otherwise go to waste negates the need for taxpayers to pay for the production of an unnecessary amount of drugs, thus saving taxpayer money. This has the potential to cut healthcare costs significantly.
Drug Donation Pharmacies are already promoting significant, positive results in the lives of many. These programs help ensure that those who are uninsured or otherwise cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions receive the medication that they need, provide a safe and cost-effective means for healthcare facilities to recycle their unused and unopened prescriptions, prevent unnecessary pollution, and save taxpayer money. One of the only downfalls to the program is that the pharmacy cannot guarantee that every prescription can be filled; they operate based on donations, and can only give what they receive.
Each year, about $2 billion worth of medications are thrown away, $100 million of which comes from California. Better Health Pharmacy and similar clinics can help prevent this unnecessary waste and help countless families and individuals in the process. Better Health Pharmacy is the first program of its kind in California, and will hopefully serve as a leader for the rest of the state and the country.