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New cancer drug take-back program can reduce financial burdens and save lives


Finding quality cancer treatment is a life-altering pursuit, but too often financial challenges force patients to decide whether they can afford a potentially life-saving treatment.

But a policy change by the state of Ohio has allowed for a new program from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) that serves as a step toward minimizing the financial burden of treatment.

This month, the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy changed its policy on drug donations, allowing patients to donate unneeded oral cancer therapy drugs to others fighting cancer. Drugs that were opened and in possession of one patient can now be used to help those in need, reducing waste and cutting costs.

Thanks to that policy change, the OSUCCC — James has created a drug repository program that will provide patients in financial need with drugs donated by patients who no longer require them.

Drugs used in the program will be required to pass an inspection that guarantees they are unadulterated, safe and suitable for use. The drugs will need to be within expiration dates, properly stored and untampered with, and will be stored in a separate inventory and only used for patients who are deemed to be in financial need. 

As always, the OSUCCC  — James hopes that our innovation can set a new standard in the industry, and we encourage other cancer hospitals to follow in our pursuit of providing affordable care to the vulnerable populations we serve.

Here are just a few of the ways this program can serve as an example to the rest of the country:

Improved affordability

As health care professionals, one of our biggest challenges is affordability for our patients. Thanks to this policy change, we can continue our work toward making cancer treatment financially possible for more of our patients. 

The program will especially benefit patients who have recently switched from brand-name to generic drugs. 

While patient-assistance programs are available to help fund treatment with brand-name products, those programs are not in place for generic drugs. But adding the ability to use donated medications means patients can choose to take an even less costly path. 

Broader access

It’s almost always the case that improving affordability leads to broadened access to health care, and this policy change is no different. 

The existing OSUCCC — James Medical Assistance Program has already helped more than 30,000 patients gain access to medications valued at more than $500 million, and this new program expansion will further increase access to vital cancer therapies for patients with the greatest financial need.

In the bigger picture, it’s crucial that health care systems across the country seek out every possible solution that could help broaden access to health care for every population, especially those who cannot afford treatment. 

Increased survival rates

Ultimately, the most important goal of our cancer treatments is to increase the survival rates of our patients. But often, a lack of access and affordability can hinder our progress toward that goal.

One in four cancer patients says they’ve engaged in risky behavior to try and minimize cost. Patients have reported skipping refills, splitting does and taking other steps to combat costly care on their own, and it’s imperative that we work toward minimizing the challenges that create these dilemmas for our patients. 

At the James, our financial counselors are there to work with patients so they don’t have to make decisions about whether they can afford a potentially life-saving treatment. As a complementary piece to our Medical Assistance Program, this take-back program is just another step toward ensuring the best quality of care for our patients. 

Other health systems can follow in our footsteps, but they can’t do so without help from their state’s board of pharmacy. 

Our experts hope Ohio’s policy change and this OSUCCC — James program can be used as a model for institutions nationwide to implement drug take-back initiatives of their own and help states embrace rule changes that make such programs possible.

Jennifer Carlson serves as the associate vice president for External Relations and Advocacy in the Office of Health Sciences at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She manages and oversees policy, government affairs and community relations for the health system, health science colleges and health-related research centers. 


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