While the United States does not yet have national legislation to address medicine disposal and return programs, some states have issued laws addressing these issues. Chapter 5 summarizes this legislation and can serve as a reference for officials who wish to replicate such measures in their regions.
The donation of improper medications to humanitarian relief efforts has proven to be a major problem for aid organizations. In some cases, the donated drugs have passed their expiration dates before they reach their destination and cannot be safely administered to patients. In other cases, donors send medicines that are not relevant to the recipients’ situation under the mistaken assumption that anything is better than nothing. And because drug formulations vary between countries, some donated drugs may be unfamiliar to health care relief workers. Such unknown or mistakenly identified medicine donations have had harmful effects on patients and are not safe for distribution.
The aid organization is then left with the burden of sorting and disposing of large quantities of medicines. Since the donations frequently go to situations of crisis, environmental safeguards for hazardous waste disposal may not be available. Read about some of the problems caused by unusable donations. Therefore, although a charitable donation may initially sound like a good use for leftover medicines, it is inadvisable in most cases.
The items received at a community collection event are not eligible for donation. Pharmaceuticals that have been kept under the care of a medical professional, such as undispensed drugs from pharmacies or hospitals or unsold drugs from manufacturers, may be usable in some cases. It is always vital to consult with the intended recipients on what types of medications are needed before items are shipped. Further guidance is available from the World Health Organization’s “Guidelines for Drug Donations" and from ReMed the Network for Medicine and Disposal. The World Bank has also published a study on drug donations, exploring where and why inappropriate donations occur and examining the influence of the WHO guidelines.