Pharmacy CC National Cancer Institute

A group of Stanford University graduates have created a nonprofit organization to save millions of jars of prescription medication from the trash–and get them into the hands of people who need them.

It is estimated that two billion dollars worth of perfectly good pills go to waste every year in America.

Software created by California-based Sirum could save at least $700 million of those drugs — more than 10 million prescriptions — and re-route them to people who can’t afford their medicine.


More than $3,000,000 worth of drugs have already been saved by the software which finds medication headed for disposal, and pairs it up with clinics in need.

Many unused drugs that end up in incinerators were disposed of in nursing homes. If a patient doesn’t use a whole prescription — say from an allergic reaction to the drug — strict rules prevent the staff from giving the rest of the medication to other patients who have the same prescription.

Drug companies produce stockpiles of extra drugs to prevent shortages, only to have to get rid of them as they near an expiration date.

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In both cases, it’s usually cheaper to destroy the unused portion rather than donate it to someone in need, even though 40 states allow some degree of recycling. Usually pharmacists–and in some states, doctors–can oversee various stages of donation.

Sirum’s software reduces the cost, by having a ready list of people and places that need the drugs.

“We’ve been compared to a for unused medicine,” Co-Founder Kiah Williams told the The New York Times. “Our goal is to save lives by saving unused medications.”

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Its founders say a typical, 75 bed nursing home that uses their program will donate about $6,000 in unused drugs every year. It then costs Sirum only about $10 in shipping to get the drugs where they’re needed.

Clinics that provide medication to the poor and uninsured get the drugs from Sirum’s network free of charge.

About 200 facilities in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Ohio currently donate drugs through Sirum. Since 2011, the nonprofit, with only five full-time employees, has delivered $3.7 million in recycled prescription medicines to 35,000 patients in need.

dru— Photo: National Cancer Institute
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