CEDAR RAPIDS — Pharmacist John Drzycimski examines a jumbo-sized plastic Hefty bag, stuffed with bottles of unused medications that came from one customer.
“We have mountains of it,” Drzycimski said of the medications dropped off at Downtown Drug, 207 Second Ave. SE.
Customers bring their expired or unneeded prescription and over-the-counter drugs to pharmacies such as Downtown Drug for Iowa’s TakeAway program, which provides a safe, convenient way to dispose of the medication.
Before the program, Iowans would flush unused drugs, throw them in the trash or keep them stored in their homes.
“It keeps our kids safe and patients safe across the state,” said Kate Gainer, vice president of professional affairs for the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which administers the program.
TakeAway keeps medications from contaminating water supplies or from potentially being abused or mistakenly ingested, she said.
As of mid-January, 11,653 pounds of liquids and pills had been returned since the program began in November 2009.
Gainer said more than 400 pharmacies are participating across the state, with at least one in each county.
The drugs are burned at an incineration facility in Carthage, Texas.
There is no cost to pharmacies or customers to participate.
Funded by state
Gainer said the program costs about $100,000 annually for the containers, transportation and incineration. So far, the state has provided funding, but the pharmacy group is looking for an ongoing source, she said.
TakeAway is one of two state programs that provide options for unused drugs.
Another, the Drug Donation Repository Program, began in 2007 as a way to use medications that otherwise would be discarded.
“The program has just really grown,” said Jon Rosmann, executive director of the Iowa Prescription Drug Corp., which operates the donation system.
Under the program, nursing homes, medical facilities and individuals can donate medical supplies, such as walkers, or unexpired drugs kept in original sealed or tamper-resistant packaging.
The supplies are inventoried at the corporation’s Urbandale site, inspected by a pharmacist and distributed to medical facilities that can dispense them to Iowans in need.
Usually, the drugs are given at no cost, though some clinics charge a small dispensing fee.
Free clinics participate
The Iowa City Free Medical Clinic and Community Health Free Clinic and His Hands Free Medical Clinic in Cedar Rapids are among 110 clinics, doctor’s offices and community health centers that receive the medication and supplies to redistribute.
Clinics order what they need from an online inventory.
So far, the program has helped at least 15,400 Iowans and received more than 3.1 million units of medication, with a value of more than $3.2 million.
The program receives about $385,000 annually through state and federal sources, which funds a pharmacist and other staff, the storage site, shipping and containers.
Rosmann said Iowa is unique among states that offer drug recycling programs because of the variety of products accepted.
“Iowa has the most established program in the country,” he said. “It’s really a national model of how it can be done.”
Blood pressure and cholesterol medication are among common drugs donated, but cancer drugs and other expensive medications are also included. One patient in need of injections for multiple sclerosis medication was given 130 shots of Betaseron, with a value of $16,640.
All keep down costs that would have come from hospitalizations, surgery or other outcomes of uncontrolled illnesses, Rosmann said.Gainer and Rosmann said the two programs can work cooperatively. For example, if a patient brings unexpired medicine in a sealed package to a TakeAway site, the pharmacist could notify the drug donation program.