“What if I were to tell you we throw away $2 billion every year in medicines from doctors’ offices across the nation. That’s the equivalent of buying a major league sports team or one new luxury resort in the Emirates…every year,” says Janet Carlson, managing director for the One Eleven Group and Host of the Health Now Radio show on WHDD 91.9FM in New Jersey.
That number, per Ms. Carlson, goes up to $5 billion, if you include pharmacy prescriptions that aren’t picked up. They simply go up in smoke (in the incinerator). While looking to help U.S. Veterans in Litchfield County, Connecticut, Ms. Carlson came across this big hole in our system that direly needs a solution.
Raised in a military family, she started by trying to help our nation’s veterans. “Many veterans don’t have access to the kind of help we all think they do, due to the tiering system of the Veterans Administration. Some wait in line for years, on average two and a half years,” said Ms. Carlson.
Speaking at TEDxBedminster in New Jersey just recently, Ms. Carlson described her journey to discovering the scale of the problem and what we can do about it. She is referring to the $2 billion of unexpired medicines thrown away from long-term medical care facilities, per a study by the University of Chicago economists. In 2012, 50 million people did not fill out prescriptions—27% of those prescribed—because of cost-related issues. We’re skipping getting the prescriptions from the pharmacies, which in turn are thrown out if filled and not used.
These are unexpired medicines that can easily be used again. They only include those medicines located at professional healthcare practices that have the processes to avoid any tampering. (You couldn’t for example recover anything that has been given to patients already because they lack such assurances.)
Instead, they pay safe disposal fees to have them incinerated at high temperatures. It could be worse: incorrect disposal of the medicines into the garbage or flushed down toilets can end up in ecosystem, and possibly make its way into our food and water.
To try to address some part of this large nation-wide issue, Janet Carlson launched PharmaCares, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to help U.S. Veterans and other citizens. Their PharmaCycles program helps to collect and donate unused samples from doctors’ offices to other agencies that can accept them.
These aren’t necessarily in the small quantities we see as individual patients. “We get a call to pick up 50 pallets of medicines and we have to figure out how to get it to the right people in time.” The clinics might also benefit in terms of tax deductions for all donations made or fees paid.
In the high level view of our current healthcare system, this is a corrective mechanism that needs to exist. Some of it can occur from collecting data, per their e-sampling program. But much of it is in term of timely logistics across many clinics, agencies and pharmaceutical companies alike. “It is not enough on a local or state wide level. We really need a national program that can handle this issue effectively,” per Ms. Carlson. In the meantime, there are programs like PharmaCares to help us save financially, personally and environmentally.
Rawn Shah is Director at Rising Edge, an independent consultancy. He recently spoke at TEDxBedminster 2015 on the Future of Finding Work, alongside other speakers such as Janet Carlson. You can follow him on Twitter, or LinkedIn.