IN-DEPTH: U of M pharmacy students petition lawmakers for drug donation program

May 15, 2019 08:33 PM

At a time of year when most college students are cramming for finals, some are also paying close attention to the end of the state legislative session.

They're hoping to change state law to start a drug donation program in Minnesota.


RELATED: Iowa repository could be a model for drug donation program in Minnesota

Rowan Mahon, Hannah Van Ochten and Eva Carlson are pharmacy students at the University of Minnesota. In addition to their studies and holding down jobs, the women have spent many hours talking with lawmakers, pushing a drug-donation initiative.

"We like to say that being students kind of gets us in the door, but we have to prove ourselves once were there," Carlson said.

And prove themselves they have. The students are well-versed on medication waste, and have been looking into what can be done to combat the global problem.

"In long-term care facilities, they have to throw away a lot of medications, even though they are still completely good," Mahon said. "Across the U.S., it's been estimated that there are $2 billion thrown away every year." 

That's one of the reasons they want to establish a prescription drug repository - a place where unused and unopened medications can be redistributed to patients in need at low or even no cost.

"These medications are perfectly safe," Van Ochten said. "None of them have ever been opened or exposed to air since packaging. They have been checked by a pharmacist and they are definitely safe medications." 

The students visited a repository just outside Des Moines, Iowa - a site that has been operating for 10 years. The repository does not accept controlled substances or narcotics. But with everything it does collect, it is on track to distribute more than $8 million worth of free medication to patients this year.  

"What you see here are all donated bins of unused medication," SafeNetRX Chief Executive Officer Jon-Michael Rosmann said.

"Our largest demand for medications is from mental health or behavioral health. There is an incredible demand for these, and they are expensive, so they are often in shortage."

Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and the states in red below all have operating repository programs. Minnesota and the states in blue have laws on the books establishing a repository, but it is currently non-operational.  

Only 11 states, including South Dakota, have neither a law nor a program.  

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

The students' nine-page repository request is now in the House Health and Human Services Finance Omnibus Bill, and they are hoping it passes this session.


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Jessica Miles

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