Across the country, nursing homes destroy thousands of dollars in medicine at each facility every day. The medicine is still good. But destroying the drugs has been the traditional way to keep prescription medication out of the wrong hands. A new federal directive might encourage more nursing homes to recycle unused medicines for the use of the poor. The GLRC’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:
Across the country, nursing homes destroy thousands of dollars in
medicine at each facility every day. The medicine is still good. But
destroying the drugs has been the traditional way to keep prescription
medication out of the wrong hands. A new federal directive might
encourage more nursing homes to recycle unused medicines for the use
of the poor. The GLRC’s Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports:
In her nursing home room, Genevieve Barns gazes out the window. A
black rosary is draped over her lap. She’s 94 and an oxygen
concentrator, bubbles behind her to help her breathe. She says even this
late in life she’s still abiding by her mother’s lessons.
“It’s a matter of how we were raised, you never wasted anything.”
Barns was on a common medication called Mucinex, to keep her
throat clear, but her doctor took her off of it. Normally, her unused
Mucinex would be sent back to the pharmacy for destruction, but Barns’
nursing home contributes it to a so-called ‘drug repository.’ Barns says it
was a simple choice to give medicine she can’t use to needy seniors.
“Well, everything is so expensive, and when you waste… you’re just
squandering things that should be used by someone.”
Four years ago, Ohio became the first state to recycle sealed, unused
medicine to seniors in need. Ever since, its two drug repositories have
struggled to get more participation. The drugs can’t be redistributed until
there’s enough of any one drug to make a 30 day supply. Then it’s made
available to seniors who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
At Genevieve Barns’ nursing home, the administrator, Denise Day,
collects the drugs in a blue plastic tote…
“We don’t have a huge cliental in this building at this time, but the
amount of medications that get sent back is still quite incredible.”
The bin in Day’s office is filled with pills and bottles sealed in their
packaging. She says what’s here comes from patients covered by
Medicaid; unused medicines covered by Medicare or private insurance
must to go back to the pharmacy for incineration before patients can get
their refund. Day says still, about 2-thousand dollars worth a month,
from just 34 patients, are recycled by the group called Serving Our
Its director, Susan Daugherty, says if every nursing home in her county
donated from just half their patients, the results would be astounding.
“Honestly we could meet and probably exceed the need of older adults
who’ve needed access to drugs that are common to the aging
populations. It could do a whole lot of good with a whole lot of waste.”
The drugs in this region are taken to Buderer Pharmacy. It’s become the
local drug repository. In the backroom shelves of medication go all the
way to the ceiling.
Matt Buderer is the pharmacist. He says the drugs are checked for their
expiration dates and whether they’re eligible for donation.
“And then what we want to do is take these drugs and poke them out of
this thing into a bottle. Making sure that what goes on the bottle is the
lot and expiration date.”
Seniors who’ve signed a waiver and received a card from Serving Our
Seniors can then buy any medication for a flat fee of 7 dollars and 40
“You can dispense one tablet. You can dispense 15. You can dispense a
billion for $7.40.”
Ohio’s not the only state with a drug repository program. At least
nineteen other states have mimicked the idea. Some states have had
more success than others.
In North Carolina the Board of Pharmacy says it recycles 5 to 6 million
dollars of drugs paid by tax payers every year. That’s a lot more than
Buderer says his state could be matching those numbers, if only there
were more participation.
“There’s good public knowledge out there that large quantities are picked
up daily and incinerated that could be used. So I’m sure that a large
institutional pharmacy knowing that… certainly isn’t saying ‘well, we
Buderer says liability is often the reason given for not participating in
the drug repositories. The state’s largest nursing home corporation and
wholesale pharmacy. Both declined to comment for this story.
But now, there might be a bigger incentive. In April, the federal government
announced it will hold nursing home facilities financially accountable for
medicines going unused by patients. The states can still redistribute medicines,
as long as documents show the federal government isn’t paying for the same item
twice, and this acknowledgement of waste with in the system, might just be the
national push drug repositories need to move into the mainstream.
For the GLRC, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.