I am delighted to report that my wife and I have canceled plans for a New Year's Eve trashing of my mother-in-law's unused medication.
Last week, I wrote in Outlook about my frustrating search for a place that would accept 360 doses of DuoNeb, a respiratory drug that relieves symptoms of emphysema. Two days before my mother-in-law died in June at age 95, she had received -- in sealed foil packages -- a three-month supply of DuoNeb. It had an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2002. The retail value: almost $700.
Dozens of readers e-mailed or called with similar stories and, in a few cases, suggestions for what I could do with the DuoNeb. On Wednesday, I delivered it to CrossLink International in Falls Church, which provides medicine, medical equipment and recycled eyeglasses to those in need locally and around the world.
CrossLink is a model of what can happened if a few determined volunteers put their mind to a problem. The idea goes back to 1993, when parishioners at Columbia Baptist Church (around the corner from CrossLink's current headquarters at 427 North Maple Street) came up with the idea of sending medical supplies to Moscow. Less than a decade later, through its Christian-based church network, CrossLink has 280 projects underway, primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. As a licensed pharmaceutical warehouse, it can accept unexpired medication in the original, sealed packaging, and can distribute the drugs as long as a physician is involved.
How has CrossLink overcome the usual fears about safety and liability? "We have become good at determining whether medication has been properly handled," executive director Linda Cook said. "Most packaging shows evidence of damage if it's been stored improperly."
Every state has different laws and restrictions, but one study estimates that nursing homes alone -- which are regulated and presumably have procedures for proper storage -- throw away as much as $378 million a year in usable medication. CrossLink is an example of the creative thinking needed to prevent such waste. Maybe regulators, lawmakers and the pharmaceutical industry could agree on a New Year's resolution: A commitment to overcome the legitimate (but solvable) problems that stand in the way of making use of what is too often thrown away.