An estimated $5 billion worth of prescription medication gets burned up, flushed down the drain, or thrown in the garbage each year. About $2 billion worth of it just sits on the shelf at long-term care facilities in the United States until it expires, according to University of Chicago researchers.
That’s a terrible waste, considering prescription medication is one of the highest costs in our healthcare system and that one in four families in the United States can’t afford to pay for those prescribed medications.
SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine) is a Y Combinator-backed nonprofit that operates out of the Haas Center at Stanford University. It’s a patent-pending software platform that acts as a sort of on-demand inventory for pharmacies and care facilities to make it easier to redistribute the otherwise unused medications to patients who can’t afford to pay for their prescriptions each year.
The law varies from state to state but 42 states and Guam currently have some sort of “Good Samaritan” program for donated, unused, unexpired medications to low-income patients with a valid prescription. There are state-run drug-donation facilities and other third-party programs, such as Dispose My Meds to locate places to donate this unused medicine in each area, as well.
SIRUM works with these drug donation facilities, pharmacies, nursing homes and clinics as a peer-to-peer redistribution platform that cuts out third-party networks. Instead it lets each organization upload data on their medical surpluses and needs on the platform in order to find a match for patients in need at that moment.
SIRUM co-founders Kiah Williams, George Wang and Adam Kircher estimate the service has helped redistribute about $3 million worth of unopened, unexpired pills to 20,000 low-income patients since its start in 2011.
With funding from Y Combinator, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Google.org, SIRUM is currently operating within California, Oregon and Colorado at the moment. It plans to eventually open in all 50 states.