MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Very powerful drugs used to treat cancer are some of the most expensive in the world. Some can cost thousands of dollars for a single dose.
Given that fact, watching unused drugs of this kind be destroyed, or worse, flushed down the toilet, is a horrible waste.
But legally, those drugs couldn't be transferred to another patient in need, until now.
Thanks to a Memphis pharmacist, who went all the way to Nashville to change state law, those drugs are instead treating new patients who otherwise might have gone without. FOX13 found one man whose wife lost a long but valiant fight with breast cancer.
He was left with more than $10,000 in chemotherapy drugs.
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Brad Trotter still feels it. The emptiness after losing the love of his life last summer.
“Terri was amazing. She was a fighter," Trotter said.
Brad watched Terri's fight against breast cancer for more than a decade. She never gave up.
In her own way, she's still fighting.
“I was lamenting the fact that I had a cabinet full of drugs that were going to be flushed down the toilet to a colleague of mine,” Trotter said. “He said, ‘It’s interesting, I’m working with this guy named Phil who’s trying to do something about that.’”
Phil is Phil Baker, the owner and chief pharmacist of Good Shepherd Pharmacy in Memphis.
Good Shephard was developed to make pharmaceuticals affordable for people with insurance gaps or no insurance at all.
Now he's 12 weeks into a new campaign with a similar but much loftier mission.
“This box is $16,000 on the open market. These are lifesaving medicines," Baker said.
Baker has created a way for people to donate unused cancer drugs to other patients in need. Until late 2018, it was illegal for one person to give chemotherapy drugs to another.
“There’s never been a reclamation program in the state of Tennessee before. We had to get the law changed to even begin the program,” said Baker.
The program is called RemidiChain.
Patients or families of patients with left over medications go to remedichain.com. They register the information on themselves and the drugs they have.
"In order for us to reuse it, it has to be a tablet or a capsule,” Baker said.
Donors then get the drugs to Baker and his team by either shipping them or dropping them off at a participating treatment center.
“Every donated prescription has to be inspected by a pharmacist. There are very strict rules about what we can re-dispense."
The drugs are then passed along to patients who cannot afford them otherwise.
Making all this possible is a computer program called BlocChain.
Further insuring the safety of the drugs beyond the inspections, BlocChain traces the drugs all the way back to the facility where they were made. The chain of custody is then visible from the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the pharmacy or dispensary, through to the patient.
Baker told FOX13 the program is ultimately transparent and is tamper-proof so that any recipient of any donated drug can feel safe in knowing exactly what they are receiving from RemidiChain.
“One of the newer-evolving aspects is the financial toxicity side effect of it," said Alex Quesenberry, the director of the Baptist Memorial Hospital Pharmacy. “(What Baker is doing is) an extreme need. There’s a lot of patients who can’t afford the treatments prescribed to them.”
Baptist alone is currently treating 8,159 people living with various forms of cancer in the Mid-South. The average patient is 65-years-old and the majority are on Medicare and ineligible for patient assistance programs that cut costs.
Baker has also partnered with the West Cancer Clinic in Memphis and is looking for others to help get the word to patients in need.
He's already seen an incredible response.
“$300,000 worth of donations in 10-12 weeks from just a hand full of sites," Baker said.
But he's still waiting to receive enough of any one drug for a full treatment dose as the search for patients in need continues.
Another facet of RemidiChain: If he chooses, Trotter – like any donor – can be notified when the drugs he has donated are given to a patient. Then, if both he and the receiving patient agree, they can be united.
That can be a lot to process for any donor or recipient. But Brad Trotter is looking forward to knowing Terri's drugs will help someone else, keeping her indomitable spirit alive.
“Terri would say... go for it,” Trotter said.
Cox Media Group