Drug recycling: not much of a solution

The Associated Press reports that most US states have implemented “drug recycling” programs or are considering doing so. The basic idea is to accept donations of unused drugs and re-dispense them to people in need. It sounds like a good idea on the surface. After all, why should the drugs go to waste when there are people who can’t afford their prescriptions?
I’m sure that some people are helped by such programs and that the people running them have the best of intentions. Still, I have some concerns:

  • Donations aren’t likely to be particularly steady, so I don’t see how chronically ill patients will be able to count on gaining access to a specific drug and dose over a long period of time
  • Although there are some restrictions on who can donate and what can be donated, there will definitely be concerns over the integrity of the supply chain. I’m worried more about drugs being stored in poor conditions (e.g., heat, humidity) than tampering
  • Inventory management will be hard. The donation centers want products six months or more before expiration, but will be challenged to manage stock. It’s expensive to do it well
  • The administrative costs of these programs will be large relative to the volume of drugs. Even the larger programs seem to be dispensing only hundreds of thousands of dollars per year worth of products (though of course that could increase)

There are better, more cost-effective ways to get products into the hands of patients who can’t afford them:

  • Patient Assistance Programs run by drug manufacturers. States and/or private agencies could put their resources into publicizing the existence of these programs rather than scrounging for donations of unwanted products
  • Increased generic utilization. Generic drugs are generally cheap. (Take $4 Wal-Mart generics for example.) I’m sure the drug recycling programs spend more than $4 per prescription even though they get the drugs for free
April 7, 2008

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