Nearly everyone’s lives have been touched by cancer. A new state law effective October 1 establishes a cancer drug donation program to help cancer patients get drugs they cannot afford by distributing thousands of dollars of unused medication to patients, instead of destroying the drugs.
In the last state legislative session, House Bill 409 created a way for unused, unopened cancer drugs to be donated to participating pharmacies and care facilities and re-dispensed to qualifying patients, who otherwise could not attain them because of their astronomical cost.
The need for this new program is immense. Cancer drugs are among the most expensive pharmaceuticals on the market. They do wondrous things: they target and kill cancer cells, target the interactions between cancer cells and the patient, and help with nausea from chemotherapy. Cancer drugs can also prompt the development of red blood cells and help with a patient’s energy level.
But a drug is only good if it can be administered.
In testimony at the legislature last February, Dr. Jack Hensold of the Bozeman Cancer Center said that “new cancer therapies are, without exception, very expensive, ranging from $3,000 to $9,000 in monthly costs. Since nearly all the oral chemotherapies are subject to co-pays, all patients, independent of their insurance coverage, are placed at significant financial risk when diagnosed with cancer. Within the first month of treatment, a patient will be liable for a $5,000 payment for their drug.”
Cancer patients testified in support of the bill, too. One woman said she was grateful that the hearing was this year and not the previous session because she was undergoing chemotherapy then, and was bald. She appeared before the House committee with a packet of medication she wishes to donate, an anti-nausea drug to which she developed a resistance.
She said she has a month’s supply with an expiration date of 2011. “It’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars in my medicine cabinet,” she said. “I can’t bring myself to flush it down the toilet. Someone should use these.”
In the Senate, a woman testified that she’d been an office administrator for an oncologist for 20 years and saw the need first-hand. Four years ago, her husband, a former firefighter, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and undergoes treatment monthly. One of his prescribed medications, Velcade, costs $7,000 a month for 21 pills. Another of his drugs costs a co-pay of $4,295 a month, and yet another costs more than $6,000 a month.
It’s difficult enough to face a diagnosis of cancer. Patients who want to fight cancer but who may not have the financial or pharmaceutical means now have a chance to receive drugs from the new program. The Montana Board of Pharmacy will adopt rules very soon to implement the law.
In Montana, the spirit of helping one another is strong. There’s no reason for effective cancer drugs to be wasted or destroyed for want of a process to make them available. For those with cancer drugs to donate, and for the patients who desperately need the drugs, the cancer drug donation program bridges the gap.
State Rep. JP Pomnichowski, House District 63, Bozeman/Gallatin County, was the sponsor of House Bill 409, and is serving her second term. A fifth-generation Montanan, she has worked as an EMT/firefighter, an orthopedic surgery practice manager, and in medical records.
Editors’ note: Below are some highlights from the Montana Board of Pharmacy about how the program will work:
–The legislation allows people to donate drugs or devices to program participants, including pharmacies, physicians’ offices, or health care facilities. In order to ensure safety, drugs or devices will only be accepted and dispensed if the products are in the original, unopened, sealed, and tamper-evident unit dose packaging (see exception below).
–If a cancer drug is packaged in individual unit doses, it may be accepted and dispensed if the inside packaging remains intact even when the outside packaging has been opened.
–All donated medication must bear an expiration date that is at least six months following the date of donation.