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Free prescription drugs program in Lake County needs more participation, funding

Free prescription drugs program in Lake County needs more participation, funding
Posted at 4:58 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 18:11:44-05

CONCORD TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The costs of prescription medications are already high and unaffordable for many, but with inflation some of those prices have skyrocketed.

Fortunately, there’s a program in Lake County that’s providing people with the medications they need for free. It's called the Prescription Assistance Program and it's aimed at Ohioans who need prescription medications, but can’t afford them, like Marge Burnett.

As a diabetic, Burnett knows a lot about how much prescription medications can cost, especially when insurance doesn’t foot the bill.

“Sometimes it triples the cost. And of course now with inflation and everything. I mean, some of the medications are just out of sight. And I probably wouldn't be able to afford any of that,” said Burnett.

Fortunately, she doesn’t have to worry – thanks to the PAP.

Burnett started out as a volunteer with the program several years ago through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Lake County (RSVP), and then quickly learned she could get help too.

“That was a blessing in disguise because I'm on Social Security and I’m low income so it works best for me,” said Burnett.

PAP president Joel Lucia said all of that medicine is donated from several sources and sorted by volunteers at the Northeast Ohio Prescription Drug Repository in Concord Township.

“The state of Ohio adopted a piece of legislation called the Ohio Drug Repository Law that allowed outfits like us and nonprofit companies to form and receive medicines that would otherwise be thrown out and provide them to people who can't afford their medicine,” said Lucia. “We have probably three quarters of a million dollars worth of medicine.”

Any Ohio resident who needs help can call, see if their medications are in stock, and sign up with a prescription from their doctor. Then, the repository mails it out. Residents only have to pay a $10 shipping fee.

In accordance with the Ohio Drug Repository Law the pharmacy does not handle any controlled substances.

“We don't do a background check. We don't do a financial check. If they're calling us we presume they can't afford their medication. So just call us,” said Lucia. “We have people throughout our program now, people who if they were not getting this medicine would be unable to buy food for their kids or they skip their medicine.”

But even with the immense amount of medications the repository carries and the huge need in the community, tens of thousands of dollars worth of medicine goes to waste every month just because not enough people are signing up for the program.

“We have about 700 people using the program. We can serve three, four times that,” said Lucia. “The one problem we have is people think it's too good to be true. And most people think it's a scam. It is not a scam.”

In addition, Lucia said they’re facing another problem.

“If we can’t increase our funding or somebody else doesn't take this over, we will probably be closing by September or October of next year,” said Lucia. “It would be nice if we could attach ourselves to the hospital or to some other organization that would need our services. It could expand our services.”

Lucia said the program needs about $65,000 per year to keep running. It gets some funding from the United Ways of Lake and Geauga counties, but needs more.

“We operate on a shoestring. It is an absolute shoestring. There is not a program in any place in Ohio that will give you the benefit we can for the dollar. For every dollar we get, we'll give back to the community $5 or $6,” said Lucia.

And while they try to figure that out, he wants people who are struggling to make ends meet to know that help is out there.

“Go spend the money on groceries or gifts for your kids. Get the medicine free from us. We're throwing it out. So I don't know how to convince people that we are real. We're alive. We're here. We're here to help you,” said Lucia.

Anyone interested in signing up for the Prescription Assistance Program or wants to contribute a monetary donation to help it stay open can call 440-350-1470 or visit the program’s website.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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