Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Hospitals discard an estimated $3 billion a year in unused prescription medications nationwide. The value of unused drugs thrown away by long-term care facilities: another $2 billion annually.

At the same time, an alarming number of Americans struggle to pay when it is time to fill or refill a prescription. "About three in 10 say they haven't taken their medicine as prescribed due to costs," according to an October 2022 report from the respected Kaiser Family Foundation.

So many people forgoing their medications when so many drugs go into the trash is tragic. There should be a way to keep unused, unexpired pills out of landfills and get them at little to no cost to those who can't afford prescribed treatments.

Fortunately, conscientious Minnesota health care advocates are working on just such a solution. RoundtableRx, a nonprofit "drug repository" and brainchild of University of Minnesota pharmacy students, has energetically embraced this noble mission since lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 setting up the program.

Now it's time for the Legislature to help RoundtableRx expand to serve more Minnesotans. The organization is seeking $450,000 annually in state funding over the next two years to supplement its sole full-time employee with two more staffers. In addition, the state funding would enable the organization to find roomier headquarters than its current northeast Minneapolis space, which is smaller than many studio-sized apartments.

The funding request is modest and less than the public support provided by other states with established drug repository programs. The sum is also a timely, important investment in public health.

Dr. Alice Mann, a DFL state senator, said she has fielded too many anguished calls from patients who can't afford to pick up their prescriptions. Providing another option through a program like RoundtableRx is "literally lifesaving for these people."

Mann, not surprisingly, is the lead author of Senate bill (SF 868/HF 1032) to provide more state funding. She also expressed strong confidence in the inspections and procedures used by the organization to ensure the donated medications are safe.

RoundtableRx describes itself as a "medication matchmaker." It's a clever way to understand how it works. Drug donations come from trusted partners, such as long-term care facilities. (Individuals can donate, too.) After rigorous evaluation by a pharmacist, the medications are made available to those in need.

Currently, the process involves the organization's pharmacy and clinic partners reaching out to RoundtableRx on behalf of patients struggling with costs. The organization provides an easily accessible inventory so these professionals can see which medications are available.

Drugs distributed most frequently by RoundtableRx include those for heart conditions, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and mental health. The organization does not charge for handling or shipping. Pharmacies may charge patients a dispensing fee of at most $25. However, few of RoundtableRx's partners do so, said Rachel Rockwell, the organization's managing director and pharmacist in charge.

The organization may be based in northeast Minneapolis, but Rockwell noted that it serves the whole state. Growth in the volume of medications provided to Minnesotans has risen steadily since 2021, the first full year of operation.

This underscores the need to expand this program's capacity. RoundtableRx distributed 1,500 "days" of medication to individuals in need in 2021. In 2022, that measure rose to almost 19,000. (Medication days equals the amount of a medication a patient takes daily.)

If the additional funding is approved, it will help RoundtableRx move toward serving Minnesotans even more conveniently. The plan is to serve consumers via mail order in the future. That requires additional staff and the organization to meet additional facility requirements.

Mann's bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, with Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, signing on as a co-author. The bill offers a pragmatic solution to the high cost of prescription medications and does so with a minimal investment of public dollars. Health care innovation like this merits lawmakers' and Minnesotans' enthusiastic support.