Panel OKs study on reusing drugs

It wants city to examine safety of redispensing medications

Baltimore & Region


As the cost of prescription drugs spirals upward, a Baltimore City Council committee wants the city to study whether unused medications can be collected at hospitals and nursing homes and redispensed to the poor.

Proponents say the effort would make available millions of dollars worth of medications to fight cancer, AIDS and other illnesses that are thrown out when a patient dies or changes treatment. Similar programs have been approved in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states.

Critics question whether medication can be redistributed safely and argue the effort creates an administrative burden on hospital and nursing home staffs who must parse out unused drugs and coordinate their return to a pharmacy.

"It's a good idea if it can be implemented efficiently and safely," said Frank Palumbo, executive director of the University of Maryland's Center on Drugs and Public Policy. "Why should these drugs be thrown away if they're good drugs?"

The council's Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee last night approved a resolution, on a 3-0 vote, to study the issue.

Maryland regulations allow pharmacists to restock drugs sealed in a package if they determine those drugs have not been tampered with.

A statewide program proposed in the Maryland General Assembly this past session was sent to a study committee for further review. Del. David D. Rudolph, a Democrat from Rising Sun who wrote the bill, said the city should wait until that review is complete.

Lynda Dee, president of AIDS Action Baltimore, said patients can spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on prescriptions. She said she supports any effort to defray those costs but said the idea sounds like a temporary fix.

"That's a desperate measure," she said. "It's evidence to me of what a desperate situation we find ourselves in."

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