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2 Minnesota students fight for prescription drug repository

July 5, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two University of Minnesota students are launching a prescription drug repository program to redistribute unused medications to people who are struggling to pay for their medicine.

Rowan Mahon and Hannah Van Ochten, both students in the university’s College of Pharmacy, were behind the bill to set up the repository, which will begin next year, Minnesota Public Radio reported . Gov. Tim Walz approved a state health and human services budget that included the measure this spring.

The new law allows care facilities to send unused pills to a central repository, where they’ll undergo safety checks.

Mahon said the medicine can’t be expired or show signs of tampering.

Once cleared for use, the drugs can be distributed at reduced prices for people in need.

Leftover medicine generally comes from long-term care facilities, where drugs are often packaged in single-use blister packs. The packs can contain enough medication to last between two and four weeks. If a prescription changes or a patient dies, the centers have to get rid of unused packets.

“In a lot of places, (they) punch all of these medications out, and flush them down the toilet, or incinerate them or put them in landfills, essentially,” Van Ochten said. “If the nurse only administers one pill out of these blister packs, the whole thing has to get thrown away.”

Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, said the state previously had a drug repository focused on medication for cancer patients. But the law was restrictive and few hospitals could participate, Wiberg said.

“With the increase in drug prices over the last five or six years, you’re once again starting to get people who can’t afford their medication,” he said. “There’s more of a need for it now.”

Minnesota lawmakers removed funding from the budget bill to make the measure less controversial, so Mahon is applying for grants and fundraising to get the program off the ground. The Board of Pharmacy estimates that the project’s costs will be low in the early phases.

The program costs could eventually be covered by revenue generated from selling the medications, according to the board.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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