Politics & Government

How a new NC law makes it easier for free clinics to accept drug donations

Free health clinics will be able to more easily accept donations of drugs after state legislation removed a requirement that they had to decline drugs with less than six months until their printed expiration date.

The change came after the General Assembly unanimously passed House Bill 658 as an amendment to North Carolina’s Drug, Supplies, and Medical Device Repository Program.

Under the law, free health clinics can access drugs as long as they haven’t reached their expiration date.

Free and charitable clinics served over 80,000 uninsured patients across North Carolina last year, providing over 1 million prescription medications, according to North Carolina’s Association of Free & Charitable Clinics 2018 annual report.

NCAFCC Board Chairperson April Cook is the co-founder and executive director of the Lake Norman Health Clinic. She’s been involved in nonprofit health care for nearly 20 years, and said that the six-month restriction has long been “an irritation” for clinics across the state.

“It was really frustrating,” Cook said. “It was almost just insane to be throwing away millions and millions of dollars worth of drugs that could’ve helped those that are the most vulnerable in our state. That just did not make sense, and the fact that we hadn’t done it before now is kind of sad, but it’s better late than never.”

She said that last year, her clinic alone served around 15,000 uninsured patients, and distributed over $350,000 in prescription medication, plus more than $10,000 in over-the-counter drugs.

The Matthews Free Medical Clinic, another Charlotte-area facility, served 459 families last year and provided over $100,000 in prescription medication, Executive Director Amy Carr said.

She and Cook both said there was no way to know the total value of the drugs their clinics have had to turn down because of the way the law was originally written.

Clinics rely heavily on donations of drugs, supplies and medical devices from hospitals, pharmacies, manufacturers, wholesalers, hospice care facilities and individuals.

“But it got to a point where, about a year ago in meetings, members would speak to the fact that as drug prices keep increasing, it was getting harder and harder for their clinics to reject donations of drugs that were still weeks or months away from expiring,” said Randy Jordan, the CEO of NCAFCC.

Jordan brought the association’s proposed amendment to the law before the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy earlier this year. The executive director of the pharmacy board, Jay Campbell, wrote in a letter of support that the board members unanimously agreed that “the change would not create any danger to the public health and safety.”

“To the contrary,” Campbell said in the letter, “it is likely to improve the public health and safety by increasing the pool of prescription drugs eligible for donation.”

NCAFCC approached former Stanley County pharmacist, Rep. Wayne Sasser, about drafting the legislation. Reps. Bobby Hanig and Chris Humphrey co-sponsored the bill, which Gov. Roy Cooper signed June 26.