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'A big gamechanger.' New law improves prescription drug access for low-income Ohioans

Published By Canton Repository on February 3, 2023
Bill Roemer In The News

Ohioans will soon be able to donate unused prescription drugs to charitable pharmacies and clinics.

House Bill 558, signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this month, will modify Ohio's drug repository program to allow charitable pharmacies, hospitals and nonprofit clinics to accept prescription drugs from individuals and distribute them to uninsured and low-income Ohioans.

The law takes effect April 6.

"I believe it will accumulate to be the equivalent of millions of dollars in drugs every year," said Carol Risaliti, executive director of Beacon Charitable Pharmacy in Canton. "Rather than being wasted, (these drugs) will be able to be used to maintain somebody's health or maybe even be a lifesaving drug for them. And I think that's a big gamechanger."

Beacon Charitable Pharmacy is one of a handful of charitable pharmacies in the state. Others include the Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio in Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy in Cincinnati, Rising Suns Non-Profit Pharmacy in Athens and the Hope Clinic of Ross County in Chillicothe.

What are charitable pharmacies?
These organizations fill prescriptions for Ohioans in need primarily using the state's drug donation repository program, which enables nursing homes, long-term care pharmacies and wholesalers to donate unused medication for redistribution.

Ohio's drug donation repository program, created in 2003, previously did not permit individuals to donate medication.

Still, Beacon Charitable Pharmacy — which served about 2,300 individuals in Stark and Carroll counties in 2022 — receives calls every week from individuals looking to donate their unneeded medication. Some individuals will have medication left over from a prescription they no longer need. Others will have medication that belonged to loved ones who have died.

"If it relates to somebody they cared about, they loved dying, and they want to do good with this medicine, it's very hard to let them down and say we can't," Risaliti said.

Beacon Charitable Pharmacy relies on donations to fill about 99% of its prescriptions, she said, so it's difficult to turn away medications. Insulin, inhalers and Eliquis, a medication used to treat blood clots, are expensive and in high demand, but not frequently donated to the agency.

"You hate to waste a wonderful resource that would certainly be used by an organization like ours," Risaliti said.

She said the state's new law will decrease drug waste and help Ohioans struggling with rising drug costs. More than 1,200 prescription drug products saw price increases from July 2021 to July 2022 that exceeded the nation's inflation rate of 8.5% for that period of time, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The average increase was 31.6%.

Bill Roemer: 'We've seen a number of people that have said they might have to chose between paying their heating bills and electric bills ... or their food bills ... or buying their medication.'
State Rep. Bill Roemer, R-Richfield, who represents the 31st District in Summit County and co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Kris Jordan, R-Ostrander, said it's a win for those donating and receiving medication, as well as the environment.

Roemer said the law will enable charitable pharmacies to make use of prescription drugs that would otherwise end up in landfills. A provision within the bill also gives charitable pharmacies the ability to sell donated medication on a periodic basis and use the money to purchase other prescription drugs needed by their clients.

"We've seen a significant increase in drug prices," Roemer said. "We've seen a number of people that have said they might have to chose between paying their heating bills and electric bills, which have gone up, or their food bills, which have gone up, or buying their medication. So this is going to help those people that are uninsured or underinsured to be able to live a better quality of life."

Beacon Charitable Pharmacy client and Canton resident Sean Wood said the new law seems like a great way to help more Ohioans access medication.

Wood, 47, got connected with Beacon about six or seven years ago. He said without the charitable pharmacy he would not be able to afford the medicine he needs for his diabetes.

"If you don't need the medicine anymore, somebody else might, if it's not expired, especially with the cost of medication," Wood said.

Who is eligible for assistance?
Eligibility requirements differ slightly depending on the charitable pharmacy.

At Beacon Charitable Pharmacy, individuals must be at or below 250% of the federal poverty level and be residents of Stark or Carroll counties.

The Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio requires clients to live in Franklin County and have an annual income of $27,180 for a single-person household. They must also be uninsured, have no prescription coverage or be unable to afford prescription copays.

St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy requires individuals to have a household income of less than 300% of the federal poverty level or their paid living expenses must equal or exceed income. They must live in Hamilton, Warren, Butler or Clermont County, have no insurance or insurance with unaffordable copays and are required to complete an in-person certification process.

How can I donate medication?
Individuals will be able to start donating medication when the law takes effect.

Will Hubert, a pharmacist at Beacon Charitable Pharmacy, said that "ideally (donated medication) would be in the manufacturer packaging. So an inhaler in the box, insulin in the box would be ideal. Or a sealed bottle that has been dispensed out to a patient."

But Hubert said if a vial is clean and well-kept, it will be up to a pharmacist's discretion whether the drug is able to be used or must be disposed of.

Certain medications that require patients to register with the drug manufacturer to take them will not be accepted. Neither will controlled substances.

How can I contact a charitable pharmacy?
Beacon Charitable Pharmacy: 330-445-1087
Charitable Pharmacy of Central Ohio: 614-227-0301
St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy: 513-562-8841 ext. 228
Rising Suns Pharmacy: 740-447-5025
Hope Clinic of Ross County: 740-774-4606

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