Medicine donation program helps many Georgians who can’t afford what they need

The enterprise is nestled inside a nondescript office complex in Gwinnett County. No signage proclaims the nature of what’s behind the front door, and inside, there’s little in terms of furnishings or décor.

Despite this unassuming façade, the Norcross office is the base for an operation that’s helping an increasing number of Georgians afford their medications.

The Good Pill drug donation and reuse program is now serving about 1,000 patients in the state, and the number has been growing by 40 percent a month since its formal launch in January.

Sirum co-founders Kiah Williams and Adam Kircher

Good Pill is affiliated with a national nonprofit known as Sirum (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine), which was founded by students at Stanford University in California to help the uninsured and underinsured and others struggling to pay their prescription costs.

Sirum and Good Pill co-founder Kiah Williams says about 20 nursing homes and five long-term care pharmacies donate unexpired medications to Good Pill.

It’s a mail-order operation. Physicians can send a prescription electronically, by phone or fax, or a patient can get a doctor to send it, or have Good Pill work out a transfer from another pharmacy.

Sirum operates such programs in five states, but Good Pill is the only one that distributes the medicines by mail order.

Medication ready to be shipped.

A small warehouse with the Good Pill office has rows of medications, which are logged by a computer system. “We’re serving people all over the state,’’ Williams says.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a law in 2016 establishing regulations for such a drug donation program.

One satisfied customer is Phil Demarcus, 64, of Fayetteville, who has no health insurance. He says he may save hundreds of dollars a year on heart, cholesterol and diabetes medications through Good Pill. He pays $6 for each 90-day supply of a drug. “It’s nothing but a blessing,’’ he says.

The cost of drugs – and health care in general — can be financially devastating for an uninsured individual or family. The Commonwealth Fund, in its 2018 state scorecard, said that 17 percent of Georgia adults were going without needed care due to cost.

Prices of prescription drugs, meanwhile, have soared over recent years.

Bloomberg recently reported that 255 brand-name drugs had increases between Feb. 1 and July 15, according to the drug pricing website GoodRx.

Even for many people with insurance, high deductibles can make some drugs unaffordable. In a national 2014 poll by the New York Times and CBS News, 25 percent of families reported that in the past few years, someone in their household had chosen not to fill a prescription, had taken insufficient doses of their prescribed medicine or had skipped doses because of cost.

Good Pill’s inventory has limits, of course. Its supplies of some medications are currently low, so new patients are not being accepted now for those drugs. But it has more than 400 different medications, across the spectrum of chronic conditions.

Williams says Good Pill has dispensed $2 million of medicines so far. It’s in need of not only donations, but also volunteer pharmacists and pharmacy techs and students. “We’re also interested in partnering with other safety-net providers whose patients need medications.”

“We think there’s a huge opportunity for hospitals’’ to donate unexpired drugs, Williams adds.

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 38 states have such donation and reuse laws, but many don’t have functioning programs. Common obstacles include a lack of awareness about the programs, no central agency designated to operate and fund the program, and added work and responsibility for repository sites that accept the donations.

Like other such reuse programs, Good Pill does not distribute expired medications, opioids or any controlled substances. The drugs donated must be unopened and in sealed, tamper-resistant packaging.

Donna Looper, executive director of the Georgia Charitable Care Network, says Good Pill/Sirum “is one of the many great available resources free and charity clinics use to help their patients get the meds they need.”

Though she has Medicare’s drug coverage, Elaine Francis of Lawrenceville says the cost of her eight medications can get unmanageable. She gets three of her prescriptions through Good Pill. Francis estimates that she has saved $1,000 over six months through Good Pill. She’s also urging her son, who is uninsured, to sign up for the program.

“I’m looking to keep my prescription payments at a livable level,’’ she says. Good Pill, she says, “is a way people can stay healthy. And you don’t have to pick it up — they mail it. You can’t beat that.”