The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
The cost of medicine is just too high for many Americans, but what creative solutions are out there? In Tennessee, we found one pharmacist making a difference with an idea he calls Flip your Scrip.
Near Downtown Memphis is a pharmacy like you’ve probably never seen before. Pharmacist Phil Baker is the founder and CEO of Good Shepherd Pharmacy. People who can’t afford prescriptions can join for a low monthly fee and get connected to free to low cost medicine.
Phil Baker: Like 32 million people report that they can't afford their medicine. I worked at a community store and I saw people leave their medicine at the counter, all the time. I was the director of pharmacy for a small hospital, I saw people coming into the hospital, being admitted to the hospital, because they weren't able to get their blood pressure medicine and they'd had a stroke. It's just a mess. It's tragic that the average person can't afford their medicine. And so, with Good Shepherd Health, what we're really trying to do is, kind of reinvent the community pharmacy.
After a just a few weeks of running his small pharmacy, he says he encountered an unusual problem. People who’d lost a loved one were showing up with bags of perfectly good, unused medications to donate to someone who needs the help. But in Tennessee it was against the law for pharmacies to accept donated meds.
Baker: I had to tell these folks, there's nothing wrong with that medicine, but there's nothing you can do with it, but flush it down the toilet or throw it away. It has to be destroyed.
With more and more people looking to donate reaching out, Baker started looking for a solution.
Baker: So, I worked with legislators for a couple of years in Tennessee to get a bill amended so that we could create a reclamation program that allows us to accept medication donations, from any individual, anywhere in the country. The medications have to be unopened and unexpired in original packaging. They literally have to be in pristine condition, but if they are, then we can accept them, we can inspect those, make sure that they're safe, and then re-dispense those to patients who would not otherwise be able to afford them.
With the law on his side now, Baker has started a new, separate program to expand the idea. It’s called Flip Your Scrip. So far it’s been collecting and redistributing chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients.
Baker: For us, it means you re-use that prescription, but also like, Flip Your Scrip it is change your story. Make a new story, flip the scrip on somebody, so it doubly applies. So I thought, I'm all about Memphis, I love this city, lived here my whole life. A like that a person from Memphis would wink at that. And we started exclusively with oral chemotherapy medications. Oral chemotherapy are the most expensive meds on the market, and they're also some of the most wasted meds on the market. Because, so many patients pass away with cancer while they're still on this medicine. And so, we focused on those exclusively.
Baker (Show and tell inside medical closet): This is the inventory. And these are all the chemo meds that we have that are ready to be dispensed to patients who won't be able to afford them.
As part of Flip your Scrip, Good Shepard Pharmacy has brought in over 5 million dollars’ worth of donated oral chemotherapies, more than 550 individual donations, matching 34 uninsured patients who say they wouldn't have gotten their chemotherapy in any other way.
One of the donors is Brad Trotter who recently lost his wife Terry to breast cancer.
Brad Trotter: When my wife passed away she left behind, as you can imagine, a cabinet full of drugs and I didn't know what to do with them. A lot of it was narcotics and things that are dangerous and you want disposed of properly. You certainly don't want them flushed down the toilet and into the drinking water, right? So, I connected with Phil, that that was something he was able to repurpose. And it found a home and was able to have an impact. Yeah, she would have been very happy about that.
Baker continues to see growth in his program and says his goal to rebuild and reinvent the community pharmacy is having an impact, from who it serves to how it serves the people in need.
Baker: They consistently tell us that, they would not have been able to get their medicine any other way, which is heartbreaking. I can't imagine what it feels like to have cancer and know that there's a treatment, but not be able to get the treatment. I'm surprised at how we've been able to really affect people's lives. People don't realize how important it is. I'm proud to say that, we've been successful over five years and believe that this is something that could be repeated all over the country.
Sharyl (on-camera): Anybody in Tennessee can donate medicine to Flip your Scrip — whether they can send donated medicine to you depends on your state’s laws. You can visit goodsheprx.com and flipyourscrip.com for more information.