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Local pharmacist changes state law to put high-dollar chemo drugs in the hands of low-income Tennesseans

Local pharmacist changes state law to put high-dollar chemo drugs in the hands of low-income Tennesseans

Phil Baker is the founder and CEO of Memphis-based Good Shepherd Pharmacy. (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)

After three years, the last domino finally fell. Phil Baker, founder of Good Shepherd Pharmacy, took a call from The Daily Memphian while standing at the foot of the Washington Monument.

“Wow,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I’d like D.C. I need to plan a trip to come back and bring my family.”

Baker had just a few hours to take in the sights before he had to catch a flight back to Memphis and get to work. The trip to Washington was the culmination of a three-year effort to change Tennessee pharmacy law to allow individuals to donate unused prescriptions.

Friday, Oct. 12, Baker cleared the final hurdle – a written form by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Now, he is back in Memphis preparing for the tsunami of medications that will soon come in as Tennessee becomes the first state in the country to establish and maintain a prescription drug donation repository program that accepts donated prescriptions from individuals.

“There are programs across the country where nursing homes and hospitals can accept meds, but we’ll be the first to accept from individuals,” Baker said.

Founded in the fall of 2015, Good Shepherd Pharmacy is a locally owned nonprofit that takes donated medications by manufacturers and redistributes them to those who cannot otherwise afford prescription medication.

As a membership model, members pay $40 a month and receive all their prescriptions at cost or completely free, depending on income level, with a portion of the membership fee sponsoring a low-income member.

Through his experiences at Good Shepherd, Baker was inspired to change state pharmacy laws.

“I would have people come in with a bag of medicine and say, ‘My grandpa was on hospice. Now, I have all this medicine. Can you give it to poor people?’” Baker recalled. “I looked into it and it was illegal, so I sketched out what the law should look like.”

Working with sponsors Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, chair of the House Health Committee, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, Baker worked with the Department of Health and the Board of Pharmacy to draft a set of rules, which were approved by the Tennessee General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Committee this summer.

To start, the program will accept 20 to 30 medications, with a focus on high-dollar oral chemotherapy drugs and anti-rejection drugs given to organ transplant patients. The program will not accept controlled substances.

“All the new chemos are coming out as pills, but they cost $30,000 and up for a one-month supply. With more than 40 percent of cancer patients passing away, it is a double whammy,” Baker said. “Most patients can’t afford them and half are getting thrown away.”

To donate, drugs must be in the original packaging and within the given expiration date.

The program is also building a technological component that uses blockchain to create an unchangeable ledger of the medications that are being reclaimed and will eventually connect that ledger to other network pharmacies. The solution is called Remedichain or REMEDI.

Once the medications hit patients’ hands, they are “off the grid,” Baker said. By using blockchain, the government has end-to-end traceability and visibility from the donation through distribution to economically disadvantaged patients.

Baker has not settled on a platform yet, but has been in talks with major blockchain companies, including ConsenSys and IBM.

Baker plans to spend the rest of 2018 learning the business and rules of reclaiming medicine with the hope of dispensing by Jan. 1, 2019.

Baker is planning a donation drive on Giving Tuesday, the intentional day of giving ahead of the holidays on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. He is also reaching out to partner with area hospitals.

“When a family member passes away, their family will hold on to (oral chemotherapy medications) because they know it is worth a lot of money,” Baker said.

Sharing the staff of Good Shepherd Pharmacy, REMEDI does not have the resources to accept all the medications people want to donate, but has plans to eventually expand the list of accepted medications.

Baker encourages people to still register the medications they want to donate in anticipation of the expansion.

“This program allows still-packaged, unexpired pharmaceuticals to be donated to a repository program and redistributed to those in need instead of being thrown away,” Sen. Kelsey said in an emailed statement. “I believe it has the potential to help many Tennesseans receive needed medication. I expect this program to take root, and I am hopeful that many people will benefit from the donations.”

With all approvals in place, those who are interested in donating can register at, and those in need of medication can sign up to be on the waiting list.

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