University of Minnesota Alumni Association


The Rx Fix

RoundtableRx, a nonprofit startup led by students at the U of M’s College of Pharmacy, is easing the burden of medication costs for Minnesotans in need with a prescription-drug repository.

Illustration Credit: Saskia Keultjes

Minnesota, like the rest of the country, contends with the crippling cost of healthcare, and prescription medications are a big part of the problem. With more than one-third of Minnesotans struggling to afford their everyday medications—an issue exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic leading to job loss and subsequent loss of healthcare coverage—the need for an innovative solution has never been more pressing.

Thanks to the launch of RoundtableRx, a statewide medication repository, Minnesota will soon get a healthy dose of that type of innovation.

The nonprofit startup, spearheaded and led by students at the U of M’s College of Pharmacy, functions as a redistribution center for unopened, unexpired medications that can still be safely prescribed to patients. By collaborating with the state’s largest long-term care facilities, RoundtableRx receives unused medications, then sorts, safety-checks, and redistributes them to a network of provider partners. Those providers, which span seven healthcare systems representing 33 hospitals and 200 clinics, pass along access to medications at a reduced cost to patients. Prior to RoundtableRx, these unused medications would otherwise have been thrown away or destroyed.

“People are struggling to afford the medications they need,” says Rowan Mahon (M.P.H., M.H.I. ’19; Pharm.D. ’20), founder and managing director of RoundtableRx. “At the same time, we’re throwing away millions of dollars’ worth of safe medications. When you can do something to help, I feel like you have to.”

Mahon has been working on the launch of this repository for the last three years. Early in her education at the College of Pharmacy, she discovered that 21 other states in the U.S. have medication repositories, including Iowa, which has repurposed nearly $18 million worth of medications over the last decade. Mahon wondered why Minnesota wasn’t doing the same.

The answer, she learned, was that there was no state legislation in place to do so. Driven by the opportunity to solve a problem with a straightforward solution, Mahon and others in the student group, Public Health Advocacy Student Alliance, worked with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to write legislation, then petitioned for a bill that would allow Minnesota to launch its own medication repository. In May 2019, the bill passed into law.

Mahon and her colleagues hope to see a lot less waste and a lot more savings for Minnesotans in need. Currently in Minnesota, there are 325 long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, that dispose of an estimated $16 million worth of safe, unexpired medication every year. At the same time, the state’s uninsured rate is rising to more than 350,000 people. For these individuals, the question of affording medication is very real.

“We learn in pharmacy school that if you can’t afford the medication, it’s neither safe nor effective,” says student Eva Carlson (Pharm.D. ’22), assistant director of student relations at RoundtableRx. “We talk about how cost is a big part of adherence, making sure you’re on the right medication and taking it consistently. Cost won’t take care of all adherence issues, but it’s a big one.”

The types of medications that Mahon and Carlson expect to receive from long-term care partners are primarily maintenance medications: drugs for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and other cardiovascular issues, as well as mental health medications. Redistributing these medications ensures better preventative healthcare for Minnesotans, a step in the right direction to improve overall health.

“The phrase ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure’ comes to mind,” Mahon says. “I’d rather fix a problem at the beginning than having to do life-saving measures. A simple course of medications can improve and save lives.”

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