Changes will be coming to a recent Idaho law that would allow nursing homes to donate unused and unopened prescription drugs to free clinics that offer health care services to low-income or uninsured patients. The dozen free clinics in Idaho can take donations from drug manufacturers and wholesalers, and unused samples from doctors’ offices. A law passed earlier this year would extend the donation law to let nursing homes give unneeded medications to clinics. That expansion is now on hold until next year while lawmakers, clinic officials, and the state board overseeing prescription drugs agree on workable rules for the program.
A panel of Idaho lawmakers voted unanimously on Thursday to revisit the medication donation law in the next legislative session starting in January. Until an agreement is reached on both the law and the administrative rules to enforce it, free clinics can’t take donations from nursing homes, but can receive them from other legal sources.
Clinics rely on free or discounted prescription drugs and volunteer hours from physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to provide medical services at little or no cost. “The clinics do an important service for the people of Idaho,” said Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, who led the panel of lawmakers. “Especially in the economy that we have right now, it’s imperative that people who are out of work… have access to health care services.”
Others on the panel agreed that more time and revisions are needed. “My biggest concern is that we’re going to mess with something that’s working,” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said about the drug donation law.
Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, agreed. “We can’t expect to hit a home run on the first try,” he said.
Safety requirements for the donated drugs are the source of disagreement between the charitable clinics and the Idaho Board of Pharmacy, which is writing the rules for the donation program. All the medications need to be unopened, properly labeled and not past their expiration date. The pharmacy board wants to require clinics to have a doctor, pharmacist, or trained nurse on hand whenever donated drugs are dropped off and also require a pharmacist to make sure that all drugs donated from nursing homes are safe.
Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Mark Johnston said only pharmacists or other trained medical professionals can make sure drugs are safe, and not expired or counterfeit. “It’s a really concerning topic,” Johnston said.
Clinics officials contend the rules are unworkable, because they don’t have full-time pharmacists and nurses on staff. Steven Reames with the Garden City Community Clinic near Boise said that clinic has trained staff members check all donated drugs, but they usually aren’t around when the donations arrive. Reames said the clinic has a locked walk-in closet where they store drugs before they are examined and dispensed to patients.
“I don’t think anybody should be put in the position of wondering whether a drug is good or not,” said Boise Democrat Les Bock, who sponsored the plan in the Senate this year. “We can find some compromises that make it possible to do this.”
One likely change to the medication donation law in the next few months would be creating create separate, less stringent safety standards for donations from drug manufacturers and physicians’ offices, which the Board of Pharmacy and representatives from clinics agree are less prone to safety problems. While members of the legislature consider rewriting the law, the Board of Pharmacy will also make changes to the safety rules, and release a new set of rules for medication donations as early as February. The donation plan isn’t expected to add health care costs to the Idaho state budget, though Johnston said the Board of Pharmacy has already spent several hundred man-hours coming up with the safety rules.