Diabetes Forecast

How to Donate Surplus Diabetes Supplies

By Erika Gebel Berg, PhD , ,

As many as 100,000 children and adolescents in 70 countries across the globe struggle to get access to insulin and testing supplies, according to a 2011 report by the International Diabetes Federation. Without insulin, a person with type 1 diabetes can die within a week. So, it may seem a shame to toss away perfectly good insulin or supplies just because you switched to a different brand or they were left behind by a departed loved one. Fortunately, you may be able to donate those lifesaving materials.

Find a local Recognized Education Program by entering your ZIP code at diabetes.org/program-finder.

Donations at Home

Where you can donate may depend on where you live. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends checking with local diabetes education centers—such as ADA Recognized Education Programs—for information about donation resources in your area. For example, there may be a homeless shelter that collects diabetes supplies. Some animal shelters may accept donations, too. When you call, be sure to have a list of what you want to donate. Organizations may be looking for unexpired and unopened packages of syringes, pens, insulin, medications, test strips, lancets, insulin pumps, and pump supplies.

Medication Disposal

Some medications are safe to toss in the trash or flush down the toilet, but others may be hazardous to the environment. So it's important to check your medication's label for information on how to safely get rid of leftovers.

If you can't find disposal information on your drug's label, check with your pharmacy to see if there is a safe-disposal center nearby. Community drug take-back programs are popping up at clinics and pharmacies around the country to help cut down on the inappropriate disposal of medications. If your area doesn't offer a take-back program, the Food and Drug Administration says it's OK to throw the medications in the trash, but the agency recommends removing them from their original containers and scratching out any identifying information on prescription labels. Still got questions? Talk to your pharmacist about any specific concerns.

What about prescription pills? This is tricky, and the laws on what is allowed vary by state. It may be worthwhile to check with your state's health department to see if there is a program for recycling unused and unexpired medications. For example, Wyoming's health department accepts sealed bottles of unexpired medications, as well as test strips and insulin, and redistributes them to residents in need. Your doctor may know about the options in your state. Opened or expired medications should be safely disposed of (see "Medication Disposal," right).

Going Abroad

To make donations for use abroad, your best bet is Insulin for Life, which is run by the wife-and-husband team Carol and Mark Atkinson. "The need is huge," says Carol Atkinson. "We collect goods that can be used easily." This includes insulin in vial or pen form, glucagon, meters, strips, lancets, and pen needles. They accept all brands and types, and recommend that donors send insulin and glucagon with ice packs to keep them at proper temperatures. "They all need to be brand-new and not expired," she says. "Ideally, we try to take insulin with three months left. We don't want anything to expire while in transit." They don't accept medications other than insulin and glucagon.

Between September 2012 and April 2013, Insulin for Life accepted over 21,000 units of insulin. Before shipping supplies, Insulin for Life removes any identifying information on the products. "We certainly remove all prescription information and identifiers," Atkinson says. "We keep it very anonymous."

One of the Atkinsons' biggest jobs is to find legitimate places to send donations. Because insulin can be dangerous if administered incorrectly, Insulin for Life ships donations only to clinics with a physician on site. "We do not ship to individuals," Carol Atkinson says. They carefully investigate clinics that want to receive donations. "Sometimes you get someone who may want to resell," she adds. Insulin for Life currently partners with clinics in Ghana, the Philippines, and India.

While Insulin for Life typically ships donations only abroad, because of restrictions on distributing medical supplies in the United States, there are exceptions. In times of crisis, such as after a natural disaster, Insulin for Life is authorized to deliver diabetes supplies to an affected region. This can help people whose homes and insulin supplies may have been destroyed, along with their prescriptions. Rest assured: Your supplies are likely to find a person in need, whether close to home or far away.

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