Home » Finding a way to match surplus meds with vets in need

Finding a way to match surplus meds with vets in need

CORNWALL— Every year, 200 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste is generated in the United States. At the same time, 35 million Americans and 1.5 million military veterans do not have prescription drug benefits.“It is both a serious health issue and a serious environmental issue,” said Janet Carlson, CEO of One Eleven Software and a resident of West Cornwall.She explained that drugs discarded by pharmaceutical companies, including over-the-counter medications, are “short dated,” meaning they will expire within six months or are deemed surplus, meaning there was more drug created than the market needed. All are still effective medications. Not all of it is thrown out. Some is shipped overseas through a number of valid nonprofits. “I’m all for helping out people in Africa, but what about helping Americans? Millions of them go without the drugs they need,” Carlson said.The solution she has proposed: give the still-good medications, including vital drugs for conditions such as diabetes, high-blood pressure, allergies and chronic pain, to under- and uninsured Americans. Carlson has vowed to make it happen, with help from her husband and business partner, John Sanders, and the staff at One Eleven.The 17-year-old company began in Brooklyn, N.Y. The business develops software that connects pharmaceutical companies with physicians and is a leader in the industry in e-sampling, which allows doctors to order drug samples online or via smartphones. Bypassing the drug company representative is a big time- and money-saver on both ends.Sanders and her husband moved from Brooklyn to West Cornwall in large part because this is where they wanted to raise their children. They bought and renovated the old West Cornwall railroad station and live on the second floor, above the office. Twins Harry and Ellie are now in first grade and thriving in the country environment of Cornwall, as hoped. What the family didn’t expect was the forthrightness of at least one new neighbor and friend. “I was at a party at Jerry Doolittle’s,” Carlson recalls. “That was about two years ago. He said he heard we were doing e-sampling, and that was great, but then he asked what we were doing to help people in the world.”She was thrown at first, but took the question for what it was. “It was a good question, and I thought about it a lot.”The final catalyst occurred this past Veterans Day. Carlson was on a business trip that included a six-hour drive. “I had NPR on in the car, and listened for hours to veterans being interviewed. One thing that kept coming up was how so many of them can’t get the medicine and medical care they need. I researched it and found that Harvard University has been following veteran health care issues, and it’s a real problem.”It has escalated with the recent conflicts in the Middle East, and the many soldiers who served short terms of duty.“You have to be in the service for 20 years to get the top medical benefits,” Carlson said. “We all are under the assumption that the Veterans Administration gives all veterans whatever they need, but it’s just not the case. One and a half million veterans are getting bottom-of-the-barrel benefits, if any.”After calling contacts in 25 years in the industry, Carlson is close to coming up with two solutions. One Eleven is comprised of people formerly in the pharmaceutical industry. They know the ins and outs, and Carlson knew that if anyone could come up with workable answers, it was her team.Her first priority is PharmaCause for Veterans, aimed at getting free medication to veterans. Her confidence is extremely high that the plan will come to life, based on the support she has received from top management at the pharmaceutical companies she has contacted.What is still needed to make it happen?“We need all of the pharmaceutical companies’ leadership to stand up and say they will stand behind our veterans. This is an opportunity to do something really good. We are making pharma leaders aware of the problem. We’re not talking a billion people here, but one and a half million who served us. Now we need to serve them.”Once launched, the word will get out through military-focused social media sites, such as ArmedZilla. A former One Eleven employee is heading up the online site devoted to the armed services community, and has pledged to work with PharmaCause. It is a popular site among veterans, and an ideal way for them to seek help.Part of the plan is to keep it simple. Veterans will fill out a short online application and provide their prescription. Their veteran status is verified through a database of discharge records. Most drugs will be mailed directly to the veteran. Some categories of medication will be made available at pharmacies through vouchers or co-pay cards. Carlson is also working on making available all medical supplies, including vision needs.A second initiative is PharmaCares. It will basically be a listing service of short-dated and surplus prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Medical directors and physicians at certified organizations such as AmeriCares can “shop” online and find supplies for patients in need in crisis situations. “They are already getting donations of some of those drugs,” Carlson said. “The problem is they don’t necessarily get to choose. They may not have enough of what they need, and whatever they can’t use will likely go to waste.”Carlson said she marvels at how a simple question, heard at a party, can cause such change.“I am a really determined, stubborn, focused and optimistic person. I am like a dog with a bone on these projects. What amazes me is that Jerry didn’t know me well enough then to know that about me. I have to wonder if it was really chance.”

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