A trash bag shaped like a pill

Returning Old Medications To the Pharmacy

This is a very hard article to write. I come from a place of privilege. I had the ability to pay my way through university so I could have a good job. I have a job with benefits including an exceptional drug plan. My husband has a good job. He also has an exceptional drug plan. When my plan won’t cover a medication cost in full, his almost always pays the balance. My drug plan pays the balance of what his plan won’t cover as well. My meds are dispensed as a 3 months supply.

Medication cabinet clean-out

Once a year, sometimes twice, I clean out my medicine cabinet. This is emotionally hard to do. In the medicine cabinet are medicines that have been stopped. Medicines that I can no longer take for one reason or another. We are encouraged to return these medicines to the pharmacy on a regular basis to ensure that they are destroyed; to ensure that neither myself or my family don’t accidentally take a combination of old meds with new ones that could harm one of us.

Minimal options for old diabetes medications

The other day I finally got around to doing the clean-out. A couple of stomach meds that didn’t work, some outdated Gravol, some outdated cold medicines, pain killers I never took for post-dental work or for my broken ankle, outdated asthma meds, and...some diabetic meds. When I switched from one diabetic drug dose to the higher one, the new dose was more than double the old.

I asked the doctor if I could just double the old one until it was done. It would just be a couple of months because I just got a new box two weeks before - two and a half months worth will be wasted. The doctor said 'no'. I mentioned that there are others who cannot afford the meds and here I am throwing them out. No, he wanted me on the higher dose. Last year I switched again to another med, then switched again to a higher dose of the same. When I pulled these meds out of my cabinet I had approximately 6-9 months worth of diabetic medication that someone could use. I felt nauseous. I started to tear up. I bagged them up and headed to the drug store to dispose of them.

The cost issue of diabetes medication

Many of my fellow Canadians and many of the people I have met online that I consider friends in the USA do not have coverage for their meds. We have a system in Canada that assists those who live in poverty, those who cannot afford their medications. And it covers most prescription drugs. It doesn’t cover the everyday things parents need like Tylenol, Advil, or cold medications.

Even with this amazing system, there are still many people who fall through the cracks, between those being able to afford and those in poverty who struggle to afford what they need to live with diabetes. It’s just not right to be wasting these precious drugs when I know there are people dying because they cannot afford their diabetic medications. They are rationing instead of taking the prescribed dose. Or, if they do pay for their meds, they are not paying rent or buying food to offset the cost. I am blown away by the jacked-up cost of medication in the USA. There should be controls in place so this cannot happen to people or at the very least, happen to less people.

Solutions to avoid wasting diabetes medications

So what is the answer, now? What can I do so I can live with my social conscience?

  • I can ask for my medication to be dispensed 1 month at a time rather than a 3 months supply. The downside to this is threefold. I have to make more trips out to the drug store to pick them up. This affects my environmental conscience in that I’m using gas to drive more frequently to pick them up. And at present, I’m more at risk for coming in contact with COVID-19. It also means that my pharmacist is able to charge the $15 dispensing fee every month instead of every 3 months. That runs through my drug plan. Now, I love my pharmacist and value her knowledge but that’s just highway robbery.
  • I can advocate for a system that allows for the safe return or reusing of medication for those who cannot afford what they need to support their health. There is a risk I realize. But does the benefit outweigh the risk? Maybe. This is only a temporary solution as you will read in my next statement. But maybe, just maybe, it could help someone.
  • I can continue to advocate and support Diabetes Canada’s proposed National Diabetes Strategy, Diabetes 360(1), a strategy that would help Canadians have access to the drugs and supplies they need. This long-term strategy will cover all Canadians.

In the meantime, I feel sadness and guilt when I have to return diabetes medication for destruction. I feel the same guilt when I had to waste a partial dose of insulin, knowing many around the world cannot afford their insulin due to the ridiculous cost being charged for such an inexpensive drug.

There has to be a better way. I wish there was an answer now. But sadly, there isn’t.

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