Should someone with cancer die or have their prescriptions changed, state lawmakers would like their unused prescriptions donated to a program that would safely distribute them to others in need.
If passed, Senate Bill 159 would require the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy to establish and operate a Cancer Drug Donation Program. The bill would also allow Nevadans — cancer patients or their families — to donate drugs at any pharmacy, medical facility or health clinic.
“There are so many people who can’t afford these drugs,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, a sponsor of the bill. “This is a method to help some people obtain life-saving drugs. In many cases these drugs help cancer patients get through chemotherapy treatments more comfortably.”
Cegavske, who pitched a similar bill during Nevada’s previous legislative session, said the idea came to her 27 years ago after the death of her father, who died of cancer at age 60.
After his passing some family members found some of his unused cancer prescriptions.
“Some of them hadn’t been opened,” Cegavske said. “I tried to find out who would take them but there was no one.
“I thought this was a waste,” she said, noting that drugs were just being discarded.
Over the years Cegavske researched ways prescription drugs could be properly disposed of, particularly cancer drugs. She found that some states had created programs in which patients or their family members could donate surplus prescription drugs.
Her previous bill, Senate Bill 5, was introduced during the 2007 session but failed. Some trial attorneys and pharmaceutical companies were concerned about liability.
“The pharmaceutical companies didn’t want to get sued and the trial attorneys wanted to sue,” she said. “But if I have a drug and it is sealed and I give it to someone else, to me, everyone has immunity.”
Cegavske said she hopes the new bill will allay some of the fears.
Included in SB159 is language that provides immunity from civil liability to drug donors or program providers. The bill also provides immunity from civil and criminal liability to manufacturers of cancer drugs that are donated into the program.
A similar bill has been introduced in the Assembly, AB213.
Justine Harrison, vice president of legal and governmental affairs at the Nevada Cancer Institute, called a cancer drug donation program a great opportunity.
Harrison, a five-year breast cancer survivor, said there are a wide varieties of drugs patients need during cancer treatment but are sometimes avoided because of costs. Those drugs, she said, often offer relief to patients.
“A lot of times you have symptoms of your disease or symptoms that go hand-in-hand with treatment like nausea,” Harrison said. “Often times you have to take drugs that stimulate the appetite or for pain control. … Sometimes what happens though is the different drugs may or may not work. When they don’t work, the patient may have to get a different drug.”
In that situation the original drug has gone to waste because the patient doesn’t need it.
According to a July article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 34 states had enacted laws that allow needy residents to receive unused medications from state institutions, nursing homes and other health care facilities.
The programs were expected to reduce spending and improve access to often-expensive drugs, the Journal reported. With access to medications, poor people are less likely to develop complications from chronic conditions, which in turn can mean substantial cost savings.
Harrison said eight of the 34 programs are specific to cancer drugs.
She said who can actually donate drugs differs from state to state, whether donors are individuals or physicians. There are also differences in who oversees the drug donation program and who can accept the unused prescriptions.
“The really big issue that seems to catch people in each state and each program is immunity,” Harrison said. “But we hope this time around that issue will be resolved.”
Carolyn Cramer, general counsel for the pharmacy board, said collecting and dispensing drugs would be a new role for the regulatory board if SB159 passes.
The pharmacy board regulates the state’s pharmacies and pharmacists. It doesn’t distribute drugs.
“We don’t have a facility to collect these drugs, so there would be a little bit of an expense,” Cramer said.
In particular, Cramer said the pharmacy board would likely need to hire a full-time pharmacist as well as a full-time pharmacy technician to handle collection and distribution.
Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.