State Senator Joe Simitian M.A. ’00 (D-Palo Alto) unveiled a bill intended to help reallocate unused prescription drugs to uninsured Californians last Friday at the Haas Center for Public Service. The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1329, would make it easier for more health care facilities to donate their unused prescription drugs to those unable to afford their own. Around 30 attended for the presentation.
The new bill builds on prior legislation authored by Senator Simitian in 2005, which gave counties the opportunity to create distribution programs for unused prescription drugs.
The idea for the original 2005 bill came from Josemaria Paterno ’02 M.D. ’08, who won Simitian’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest. The contest allowed private citizens to submit ideas for change in Palo Alto to Simitian. Paterno was a first-year medical student at the time he won the contest.
The nonprofit organization Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine (SIRUM), which hosted Friday’s reception, approached Simitian about improving the 2005 legislation. During the event, Simitian credited SIRUM with helping to expand drug redistribution beyond the original bill. SIRUM runs a website that healthcare facilities with surplus medications can log onto and scan in the medications they have, which the site then allocates to clinics that have requested that type of medication.
An estimated $100 million of unused and unexpired prescription medicine is disposed of yearly in California, both by incineration and dumping in local water supplies, according to SIRUM. SIRUM also said that approximately one-third of uninsured Californians choose not to purchase medicine because of its cost.
Simitian said he hopes the new bill will be passed by the end of the year.
“We would love to streamline drug donations all across the country,” said George Wang, SIRUM’s director of operations.
Both Simitian and SIRUM said it was important to increase the number of donors and recipients, as well as weaken the legal barriers that can prevent facilities from donating their surplus medication.
“It gives us a way of not wasting and giving back to the communities,” Deane Kirchner, director of nursing at Lincoln Glen Manor and Nursing Facility (LGM), said. LGM was the first facility to join the donation program.
Mymy Phu, the pharmacist supervisor at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC), also spoke at the event, highlighting the program’s effects of helping the unemployed, who often lose their health coverage. She also said the program helps to decrease the environmental contamination that often results from improper disposal of unused prescription drugs.
Phu noted the bill’s potential to save millions in healthcare and its potential to expand.
“I think the bill is going to have a positive impact in the community,” Phu said.
SCVMC attempted their own redistribution program in 2006, but it was not until SIRUM stepped in last year that that Santa Clara saw results, she said. According to Phu, SIRUM streamlined the process and allowed the program to flourish.
Director of Public Affairs for the California Association of Healthcare Facilities (CAHF) Deborah Pacyna said that out of the 1,250 healthcare facilities that are potential donors, only 70 currently participate in the donor program.
One cause is that most healthcare facilities are located in counties without a donor program and must ship their surplus to other counties rather than helping their own communities, Pacyna said. In an effort to correct this, she said SIRUM has had presentations at CAHF chapter meetings to spread awareness of the program.