Sharing leftover cancer drugs helps some patients afford meds

Inside the Kettering Cancer Center Pharmacy. The pharmacy recently launched a program to let patients donate certain leftover cancer drugs to other patients in financial need. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Inside the Kettering Cancer Center Pharmacy. The pharmacy recently launched a program to let patients donate certain leftover cancer drugs to other patients in financial need. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Ohio rule changes let patients donate extra pills for people who can’t afford the pricey prescriptions.

Cancer medications can be expensive, yet unused and unexpired doses are disposed of every day.

Because when a patient doesn’t use all the medication they have been prescribed, they sometimes don’t have access to a way to legally share their leftovers.

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This is changing because of a rule change in 2019 by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy that allowed pharmacies to set up donation banks for cancer pills or drugs used to treat side effects of cancer treatment.

Kettering Health is the latest to take advantage of the changed rules and open a new oral chemotherapy drug donation program.

Cancer patients tend to want to help others and for years many have asked their doctors if they can give back extra medications to help others, according to Kevin Blackburn, system pharmacy director at Kettering Health.

“They would potentially want to bring their medications and give it to their oncologists, but they can’t take them back, no matter how much they want to. So having the Board of Pharmacy open this up and allow this, it’s a huge thing,” Blackburn said.

The cost of meds and insurance coverage varies from patient to patient, but cancer medications can cost many patients thousands of dollars out of pocket. Some insurance companies don’t cover oral chemotherapy and it is also common for patients to have high deductible plans that leave big portions of the bill for the patient.

“To give an example, it’s extraordinarily common for us to dispense medication that where the cost of medication might be $10,000 a month. And the patient’s responsibility could be $2,000 or $3,000 for the first couple of months,” said pharmacist Joshua Cox, director of pharmacy at Dayton Physicians Network. He credits the program with helping many people struggling with cost.

The state board does not have a total list of how many similar drug donation programs there are, but Ohio has three charitable pharmacies and the Ohio State University has a drug repository program for cancer medications, said Kylynne Johnson, public affairs liaison with the Board of Pharmacy.

Ohio could potentially expand its rules for even more circumstances.

House Bill 558 would let individual patients to donate medications to charitable pharmacies and nonprofit clinics. Currently only organizations like nursing homes can donate to charitable pharmacies, because in that scenario the medications must be still in the full packaging.

The Board of Pharmacy and several Ohio pharmacies are among supporters of House Bill 558. The bill received its second hearing during a House Health Committee this week.

“In addition to Oncology, there are many other disease states with medications that are cost prohibitive for patients,” Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center pharmacist Trisha Jordan said in testimony to the committee. “We strongly believe that we can replicate the success of our oral oncology drug donation repository program to other disease state to allow for all patients with a financial need to have access to the medication they need at no cost to the patient.”

Any opponents to the bill will submit testimony at a later date. In the past, one hold up to drug repository programs has been pharmaceutical industry companies raising concerns on safe handling and liability.

The Kettering Health Drug Repository Program accepts any orally administered drug that is used to treat cancer or its side effects, as well as any orally administered “dangerous drug” as defined by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy that is used to treat the side effects of a dangerous drug used to treat cancer.

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Any patient that is an Ohio resident, that has a financial need and unable to pay for the drug prescribed or is a patient of a non-profit clinic, qualifies to be a recipient of the program.

It takes time to get a donation program in place, Blackburn said, because it is important to make sure the medications will be safe and unexpired, and that they have the right legal setup.

Blackburn said they have now reached the point where they are have enough inventory and ready to start dispensing medications to patients. Also, they have been picking up more donations from the publicity of announcing the program.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in donations recently,” Blackburn said.

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