Medication Can Be An Expensive Barrier to Care. At Charitable Pharmacies, It’s Free.

Charitable pharmacies are a medication safety-net for those who can’t afford their medications and would otherwise be turned away.

A patient picks up a prescription at St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy in Cincinnati, Ohio. (File photo courtesy of SVDP)

In the U.S., those who can’t afford their medications often go without them.

Most pharmacies charge for prescription drugs and, unlike hospital emergency rooms, “if you don’t have the money, you get turned away,” said Rusty Curington, the Director of Pharmacy at St. Vincent de Paul Charitable Pharmacy (SVDP) in Cincinnati, Ohio. For some patients, “It’s the choice between I’m going to pay my rent…or I’m going to take my drugs,” he said.

Curington works at one of a few hundred charitable pharmacies across the U.S. These pharmacies, which are members of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, provide medication for free to patients who are low-income or uninsured. “I have people who drive an hour to pick up their meds because it’s cheaper than paying for the pharmacy that’s within five minutes,” he said.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dustin Allen has filled prescriptions for uninsured patients who have gone months without taking their medications. “People have cried out of just a sense of relief,” said Allen, the Pharmacy Manager at NC MedAssist, a free and charitable pharmacy that services all of North Carolina.

For some, especially those with a chronic condition, going without a medication can have both short and long-term consequences. “If it’s somebody that has high blood pressure, for example, and they’re not taking their medications because they can’t afford it, they may not notice anything specifically right out of the gate, but years down the line…they could have some severe side effects,” said Allen. Long-term side effects can include heart damage and kidney failure. Other times, conditions devolve rapidly. Those with Type 1 diabetes can go into a coma within a few days of not taking insulin.


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