TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The director of a health policy research center believes millions of dollars in medicine could be saved if Oklahoma drops a prohibition against recycling usable prescription drugs.
"More important than the money is where these drugs could be applied -- indigent clinics and free clinics of the area," said Michael Lapolla, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at the College of Osteopathic Medicine in Tulsa.
A policy report prepared by the center at the request of the Tulsa County Medical Society proposes drafting state legislation to allow counties and nursing home groups to voluntarily recycle unused drugs or to continue destroying them.
Nursing homes and other health-care organizations now are required to destroy unused prescription drugs when a patient dies or is transferred.
The report said Oklahoma is one of 12 states that prohibits any form of recycling of usable prescription drugs.
"In the United States, we take great pride in the reuse of human hearts, corneas, livers and kidneys," the report says. "We have yet to muster the creativity and procedures to simply reuse perfectly usable prescription drugs in such a manner as to help many and harm no one.
"Surely, it can be easily done. Surely, no one must sacrifice revenue or profits. Surely, this can be a win-win proposal. There appears to be no downside."
A bill that would have established a task force to study a recycling proposal did not make it out of committee. Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City, has asked for a joint House-Senate interim study.
The amount that could be saved by recycling is debatable.
The report estimates savings of $2.3 million to $7 million a year based on data from a May census of occupied nursing home beds in the state.
"Regardless of the estimates, it's got to be millions of dollars," Lapolla said.
An independent study in 1995 estimated anywhere from $8 million to $12 million could be saved. But another study limited to anti-ulcer and anti-arthritic medications of Medicaid patients in 12 state nursing homes projected statewide savings of $253,000 and concluded it wasn't feasible.
"I can't even estimate the value of the drugs we destroy every month," said Sandra Downing, administrator of Manor Care Health Services in Tulsa. She said the nursing home spends three to four hours a month disposing of drugs.
Supporters of such recycling efforts would like the prescription medicine to go to county pharmacies to serve the poor.
"Theoretically, if we could utilize these medications either in free clinics or in a prison system somewhere ... there would be a cost savings somewhere," said Kent Abbott, a pharmacist with NCS HealthCare in Oklahoma City.
Garrett Huxall, a pharmacist who is executive director of NCS HealthCare in Tulsa, said there are a lot of people in the profession who don't want to see the recycling occur. He said he didn't know why. He said some may worry about potential abuses of the system.
He said from a humanitarian position, there has to be a way to get the medications to people who need them.