Avera Medical Minute: Medication donation program helps patients start on expensive prescriptions sooner

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 4:57 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2020 at 10:53 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -Imagine the hope in knowing there’s a medication that can help in your fight against cancer, followed by the disheartening news of the cost.

Most of the medications, out of pocket are somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000 a month.

Avera pharmacist Rachel Elsey watched some patients delay filling their prescriptions while waiting for insurance processing or inability to pay.

One of those patients was Peggy Dennert.

“I was quite concerned if I was going to be able to go through. The insurance wouldn’t do it. The medication was like $1,700 a month," said Dennert.

Elsey also saw a solution.

“So, we knew that there was a need, and also we had patients who changed doses or had been through this process and realize that they had something that was valuable to give back to others that were suffering to the same things,” said Elsey.

Avera pharmacist Robin Lockhorst knew that getting those unused medications to a patient in need meant approaching the state.

“We went to our Board of Pharmacy who worked with us and allowed us at the various Specialty Pharmacy here to create a pilot program where we could have this program to bring back the medication for patients, and then provide it to those who are in need,” said Lockhorst.

Any donated medication must be inspected and approved. Matthew Toennies is the Avera Specialty Pharmacy Supervisor.

“It has to be in a manufacturer’s sealed bottle with the lid still on it, the foil still on it. We’re in a bubble pack blister pack with lot number expiration date, just some certain requirements that we can ensure that the medication is safe and hasn’t been used,” said Toennies.

So far, medications valued at 1.3 million dollars have been donated.

“So even if we can help with one month’s worth or even a few weeks, it can be a lot of money to get a patient started on therapy before they normally would be able to,” said Elsey.

“And we’ve assisted 64 patients with getting a fill out of the repository. Totally in just over, just about $600,000 worth of medication for free,” said Toennies.

Now that she’s on the medication, Peggy’s mastocytosis, a rare condition that attacks her bones, has improved.

“I’m just very thankful. I think it’s wonderful and I hope they will continue because we need it. It’s wonderful when you can get help,” said Dennert.

And the joy of giving back is priceless.

“It’s a relief, you know, a lot of times these patients are waiting to get their next line of therapy or waiting to start therapy for the very first time and, and they get hung up on financial snags is always so disheartening,” said Lockhorst.

“Sometimes you can just tell over the phone. It’s just a weight lifted,” said Elsey.

Pharmacists hope to see the program expand. In addition to helping cancer patients, the program has also helped with prescriptions to prevent blood clots, antifungals, and medications to help transplant patients.

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