Medical care in this country is too costly. Sometimes, though, that high cost isn’t due to unnecessary tests, negligent doctors, high-priced drugs, or anything else the media finds sexy. Sometimes the culprit is just plain old waste.

Researchers at the University of Chicago estimate that America’s 16,000+ nursing homes discard (throw away!) more than $2 billion in useable prescription drugs every year.  Yes, you read that right. Nursing homes are frequently left with unused medication when a patient leaves the facility before finishing their prescription, has an allergic reaction to a drug after a few doses, or dies.  As a result, U.S. nursing facilities incinerated or flushed down the toilet more than $2 billion in perfectly good medication this past year. They had no other choice. Until now, perhaps.

Public officials in California are taking steps to try to redirect those perfectly good drugs to needy patients. (Arizona, sadly, has not.) A publicly-funded company in CA called SIRUM has developed a program to match nursing facilities with meds to donate (they’ve already been paid for, after all) to public health clinics that need them. It has served about 20,000 patients so far.  The creators of SIRUM estimate that, nationwide, 10 million prescriptions per year could be repurposed. The program exists only in California, presently, but is about to launch trial efforts in Colorado and Oregon. It can theoretically be employed in any state which has a “Good Samaritan” law – a statute which protects the drug-donating entity from liability if there is a medical error in prescribing the medication to an end-user.  So far, 40 states have passed such laws.

One of the states with a Good Samaritan statute is Arizona. Arizona has actually gone much further in addressing this problem.  However, we simply haven’t finished the job.  In 2006, Arizona enacted a law, A.R.S. § 32-1909, which created the Prescription Medication Donation Program. This provided a structure for the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy to set up a program to allow individuals and entities such as nursing facilities to donate unused drugs to be used by underserved populations. The problem is that the statute empowers the state Pharmacy Board to write the regulations which would spell out standards as to who qualifies for the program, how the program would be administered and funded, etc.  Even though it has now been 8 years since the passage of the legislation, the regulations have still not been written and the program has never actually launched. Meanwhile, one in four Americans cannot afford the prescription medication they need. You would think this would be a higher priority for our state board than it apparently is. It looks like we may have to wait and hope that SIRUM comes to Arizona soon.