Ga. drug donation program ramps up

The enterprise is nestled inside a nondescript office
complex in Gwinnett County. No signage proclaims the nature of what’s behind
the front door, and inside, there’s little in terms of furnishings or décor.

Despite this unassuming façade, the Norcross office is
the base for an operation that’s helping an increasing number of Georgians
afford their medications.

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The Good Pill drug donation and reuse program is
now serving about 1,000 patients in the state, and the number has been growing
by 40 percent a month since its formal launch in January.

Good Pill is affiliated with a national nonprofit known
as Sirum (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine), which was
founded by students at Stanford University in California to help the uninsured
and underinsured and others struggling to pay their prescription costs.

Sirum and Good Pill co-founder Kiah Williams says about
20 nursing homes and five long-term care pharmacies donate unexpired
medications to Good Pill.

It’s a mail-order operation. Physicians can send a
prescription electronically, by phone or fax, or a patient can get a doctor to
send it, or have Good Pill work out a transfer from another pharmacy.

Sirum operates such programs in five states, but Good
Pill is the only one that distributes the medicines by mail order.

A small warehouse with the Good Pill office has rows of medications,
which are logged by a computer system. “We’re serving people all over the
state,’’ Williams says.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a law in 2016
establishing regulations for such a drug donation program.

One satisfied customer is Phil Demarcus, 64, of
Fayetteville, who has no health insurance. He says he may save hundreds of
dollars a year on heart, cholesterol and diabetes medications through Good
Pill. He pays $6 for each 90-day supply of a drug. “It’s nothing but a
blessing,’’ he says.

The cost of drugs – and health care in general — can be
financially devastating for an uninsured individual or family. The Commonwealth
Fund, in its 2018 state scorecard, said that 17 percent of Georgia adults were
going without needed care due to cost.

Prices of prescription drugs, meanwhile, have soared over
recent years.

Bloomberg recently reported that 255 brand-name drugs had
increases between Feb. 1 and July 15, according to the drug pricing
website GoodRx.

Even for many people with insurance, high deductibles can
make some drugs unaffordable. In a national 2014 poll by the New York
Times and CBS News, 25 percent of families reported that in the past few years,
someone in their household had chosen not to fill a prescription, had taken
insufficient doses of their prescribed medicine or had skipped doses because of

Good Pill’s inventory has limits, of course. Its supplies
of some medications are currently low, so new patients are not being accepted
now for those drugs. But it has more than 400 different medications,
across the spectrum of chronic conditions.

Williams says Good Pill has dispensed $2 million of
medicines so far. It’s in need of not only donations, but also volunteer
pharmacists and pharmacy techs and students. “We’re also interested in partnering
with other safety-net providers whose patients need medications.”

“We think there’s a huge opportunity for hospitals’’ to
donate unexpired drugs, Williams adds.

According to the National Conference on State
Legislatures, 38 states have such donation and reuse laws, but many don’t have
functioning programs. Common obstacles include a lack of awareness about the
programs, no central agency designated to operate and fund the program, and
added work and responsibility for repository sites that accept the donations.

Like other such reuse programs, Good Pill does not
distribute expired medications, opioids or any controlled substances. The drugs
donated must be unopened and in sealed, tamper-resistant packaging.

Donna Looper, executive director of the Georgia
Charitable Care Network, says Good Pill/Sirum “is one of the many great
available resources free and charity clinics use to help their patients get the
meds they need.”

Though she has Medicare’s drug coverage, Elaine Francis
of Lawrenceville says the cost of her eight medications can get unmanageable.
She gets three of her prescriptions through Good Pill. Francis estimates that
she has saved $1,000 over six months through Good Pill. She’s also urging her
son, who is uninsured, to sign up for the program.

“I’m looking to keep my prescription payments at a
livable level,’’ she says. Good Pill, she says, “is a way people can stay
healthy. And you don’t have to pick it up — they mail it. You can’t beat that.”



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