Expand pipeline of unused, safe drugs

The Cancer Can’t Charitable Pharmacy Act can, and should, be enacted by the Washington Legislature.

The legislation is the brainchild of Jonathan and Becky Van Keulen, who founded a nonprofit corporation to fight the disease after Jonathan was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer –osteosarcoma – normally found only in children.

Perhaps because of his past experience as committee fundraising chair for the American Heart Association, Jonathan and Becky have organized an impressive list of sponsors that has raised enough money to update 16 oncology patient rooms at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

They also rallied Rep. Kevin Parker behind what has become HB 2458, legislation for which he is the lead sponsor. Fellow Spokane Reps. Marcus Riccelli and Jeff Holy are also sponsors.

The bill won unanimous approval Friday from the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, and moves on to the Rules Committee with a note from Parker that this is is No. 1 legislative priority.

Washington is among a minority of states that do not have charitable pharmacies, which allow the use of drugs that were prescribed but never used, as long as they were properly stored.

Jonathan has 26 unused doses of a drug that helps restore white blood cell count after chemotherapy. His treatment had started with a more expensive medicine that his insurance company cut off. But when the cheaper drug proved ineffective, he and his doctor convinced the insurer to cover the cost of the original, more expensive prescription.

Jonathan’s unused medicine is worth $10,000. Rather than discard the drug, they researched ways it might be recycled and came upon the concept of charitable pharmacies, which can receive drugs from individuals and make them available to uninsured or underinsured patients.

Three years ago, the Legislature passed SB 5148, which authorized pharmacies, clinics and other health care providers – even drugmakers – to donate medicines to pharmacies for distribution to poor patients at no cost. But donations by individuals were not allowed.

Besides setting conditions like acceptable expiration dates, record keeping and income guidelines for recipients, the earlier legislation also protects participating pharmacies from criminal or civil charges as long as they act in good faith to comply.

Parker said pharmaceutical companies, the most likely opponents of this bill, were neutral in their testimony. With health care providers that have bigger stocks of unused medicine already able to donate their leftovers, it makes little sense to stop individuals from adding their inventories to the supply – if they took proper care.

There are not, hopefully, too many home refrigerators in Washington cooling $10,000 worth of medicine.

SB 5148 passed overwhelmingly in 2013 but, so far, Parker’s bill has no companion in the Senate, and he has not confirmed a Senate sponsor for his bill. It should have 49.

Enactment would be a victory of the Van Keulens, Cancer Can’t, and all Washingtonians who cannot afford the drugs they need.