National News

The shocking cost of wasted prescription pills

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-10 02:00

Every few months, typically Friday nights around 6 p.m., nurse Deane Kirchsner throws what she calls a drug party.

Except, she says, there’s nothing fun about it.

“I think if the public knew how we had to destroy so many drugs, they would be surprised,” she says.

Just like in nursing homes around the country, Kirchsner has excess drugs on hand because a patient may go home before finishing a prescription, or have an allergic reaction three days into a 30-day supply, or may pass away.

And people in nursing homes are typically on lots of medications. By law, nursing homes are forbidden from dispensing pills to other patients, even if the person down the hall has the same prescription.

So perfectly safe, up-to-date medications, already paid for, often by federal or state governments, are being cooked into healthcare concoctions in more than 16,000 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities around the country.

Data on this stuff is hard to come by. University of Chicago researchers put together an estimate for Marketplace: as much as $2 billion dollars a year of drugs that go into these long-term-facilities is being wasted.

Reusable meds are being thrown out. But one in four people struggle to afford their prescriptions. That makes no sense to George Wang of the California-based nonprofit Sirum, which wants to reduce prescription waste.

“I think lots of people can understand why there is such a desire to find an appropriate outlet to take that medicine and get it out of the waste stream and into someone’s hands,” he says.

Sirum says $700 million worth of medications can be salvaged each year – some 10 million prescriptions.

The nonprofit has developed software to make it easy and cheap for nursing homes to ship unused drugs to pharmacies that will dispense it to low-income and uninsured folks.

Sirum’s not alone in this line of work.

“It’s such a simple concept, and it has really, really helped real people,” says Linda Johnston, the Tulsa County Director of Social Services, which oversees the county’s drug donation program.

For the last decade, Johnston has convinced retired doctors to travel the northeast corner of Oklahoma picking up unused medications, redistributing $16 million worth to date.

Federal statistics show the most common class of drugs found in long-term care facilities are for behavioral health. Johnston knows psych drugs can be the difference between staying in work and being laid off, being healthy at home or admitted to the ER, being out on your own or incarcerated.

“The shameful thing is to waste it, shameful thing is to flush it down the toilet,” she says. Johnston means that literally – unused drugs are flushed down the toilet.

But even if you do get drugs to people in need, it doesn’t solve the simple problem that taxpayers continue buying drugs that don’t need to be bought.

This corner of healthcare is so upside down, pharmacists can sometimes make more money being inefficient. University of Chicago economist Rena Conti says this is an old story in healthcare. With twisted financial incentives often come snarls of waste.

“Given the kind of patchwork of incentives they are facing, there’s no reason we should see them investing in actually reducing waste in a systematic way. If we want to solve this problem for real there needs to be some clear and concise guidance across federal and state policy on how to deal with these issues,” she says.

Conti says pharmacists face a choice: maximize revenue and waste perfectly good drugs, or invest in better technology and lose money. But nobody knows whether money saved on less waste would even offset additional costs that may come.

As far as Johnston is concerned, what we do know is drug donation matters. She keeps thinking about a young man who got anti-depression medication.

“He wanted me to know he was not going to commit suicide, because he had his medication, he could take it,” she says.

Today, he’s enrolled in school working towards his dream, earning a college degree, she says.

I'm just a (trillion dollar spending) bill

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-10 01:30
$1.1 trillion

That's the spending package agreed upon by Congress on Tuesday which will keep government funded through the rest of the fiscal year. If approved, the spending bill will leave Republicans some wiggle room to avoid a budget deadline while still maintaining some leverage to influence policy.

$1,800

That's what CIA contractors that practiced "enhanced interrogation" were paid each day, four times what contractors not trained in those techniques would make. That's a small piece of the agency's $53 billion "dark budget," which has remained mostly secret even after leaks and the scathing Senate report on torture released Tuesday. Quartz rounded up the figures we know about. Also worth reading: ProPublica's timeline of the report, spanning Barack Obama's inauguration through Tuesday.

$2 billion

As much as $2 billion a year in prescription medication is thrown away in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities around the country. The excess is a result of patients going home before finishing a prescription, having an allergic reaction three days into a 30-day supply, or perhaps passing away. By law, nursing homes are forbidden from dispensing pills to other patients, even if the person down the hall has the same prescription. That's why some organizations are taking aim at reducing prescription waste.

77 percent

That's how far Abercrombie & Fitch's profits tanked last year, pushing CEO and noted eccentric Mike Jeffries to step down Tuesday, Bloomberg reported. Jeffries joined Abercrombie in 1992, remaking the hundred-year-old defunct sporting goods store into a controversial and extremely popular teen clothing retailer. The store has lost its hold in recent years, and it's already made a number of changes to stay competitive, like toning down the branding and the sexiness.

$4

That's the amount Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman was overcharged by a Chinese restaurant in Brookline, MA for his takeout. When he noticed the discrepancy on his bill, he began a correspondence with Ran Duan, the manager of the restaurant, to complain. You can see where this is going. Oh, you didn't predict Edelman would contact the authorities and threaten litigation

108

The number of plots in Palo Alto's last remaining trailer park, Buena Vista Mobile Home Park. Residents pay $685 a month, while a 700 square-foot apartment across the street rents for four times that. The land is worth a small fortune these days, and Buena Vista's largely hispanic and low-income residents have been fighting the park owners' attempts to sell. The Awl has the full story.

Cheap Crops Mean Hard Times For Midwest's Fledgling Farmers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

Recent years were a good time to invest for beginning farmers — who run a quarter of U.S. farms — but with prices crashing, paying back debts may require some hard conversations and delayed dreams.

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Justices: If You Aren't Working, No Pay, Even If You Can't Leave

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

The Supreme Court has ruled that workers at a Nevada Amazon factory aren't due overtime for time spent in security lines at the ends of their shifts, waiting to be checked for stolen goods.

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'The Interview,' The Hack, And The Movie Studio Dealing With The Fallout

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

A cyber attack on Sony may have been done by North Koreans in response to an new comedy about an attempt to kill Kim Jong Un. Huge amounts of personal data and five films have been leaked so far.

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Ex-CIA Lawyer Says No One Was Misled On Torture, Abuses Were Reported

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

John Rizzo, who spent six years as acting general counsel for the CIA, says that while he believes intelligence gains justified the agency's interrogations, he understands those who feel otherwise.

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Bertha, The Giant Borer That Broke, May Be Sinking Seattle's Downtown

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

The machine, the biggest of its type, was digging a tunnel under the city when it went kaput. To get to and fix Bertha, workers are digging a 12-story pit, which some say is damaging nearby buildings.

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Representatives Laud A Departing Dean, 59-Year Veteran John Dingell

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

Leading Democrats and even some Republicans had kind words Tuesday for the Michigander, who was first elected to the House when Eisenhower was president. His wife was elected to his seat in November.

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State Department Feared Torture Report Would Spark Fury. Where Is It?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

The U.S. beefed up security at embassies ahead of the CIA interrogation report's release in anticipation of a violent reaction. But around the globe, the response was relatively muted.

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Report Reveals Deeply Misguided Interrogation Tactics, Feinstein Says

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

The Senate's "torture report" finds that the CIA conducted brutal interrogations of detainees in the years after 9/11, misled elected leaders, and got little useful information from the harsh tactics.

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Mexican Megafarms Supplying U.S. Market Are Rife With Labor Abuses

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times into labor camps on Mexican megafarms reveals appalling conditions. Reporter Richard Marosi says that U.S. consumers need to pressure retailers for change.

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Scientists Often Skip A Simple Test That Could Verify Their Work

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

Scientists have published thousands of studies using immortal cell lines, but in many cases the cells in the experiments have been misidentified or contaminated. They could avoid the problem easily.

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Cheap Crops Mean Tight Times For Midwest's Fledgling Farmers

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-10 00:54

Recent years were a good time to invest for beginning farmers, who run a quarter of U.S. farms. But with some crop prices crashing, paying back debts may require hard conversations and delayed dreams.

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Russian Pop Stars Pay A Price For Speaking Out On Ukraine

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 23:43

Russian performers who have criticized the country's role in Ukraine have been denounced on TV programs and had concert dates abruptly canceled.

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D.C.'s Marijuana Legalization Is Part Of Debate Over Spending Bill

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 17:17

Restrictions on D.C.'s use of funds to regulate and tax marijuana would likely endanger the district's goal of creating a market that a city finance official said would be worth $130 million a year.

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Mexican Megafarms Supplying U.S. Market Are Rife With Labor Abuses

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 17:02

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times into labor camps on Mexican megafarms reveals appalling conditions. Reporter Richard Marosi says that U.S. consumers need to pressure retailers for change.

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Quiz: Hail to the Geek in Chief

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-09 15:52

President Obama wrote some computer code during an Hour of Code event in Washington.

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Why Aren't World Leaders Angrier About Violence Against Women?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 15:44

That's what South African activist Bafana Khumalo wants to know. He's spoken out for 20 years. He protested at the White House today and will accept an award for his efforts tomorrow.

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Congress Will Get A $1.1 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill This Week

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 15:42

Faced with a Thursday deadline to finance the U.S. government, leaders in Congress have worked out a bill that would fund the government until October 2015.

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In Spending Bill, A Gift For Political Party Fundraising

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-09 14:59

The Republican and Democratic parties will be able to collect an additional $97,200 per year from donors to pay for presidential nominating conventions.

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