Health care professionals and medical facilities will soon be able to donate unused, unopened prescription drugs for distribution to people without health insurance, thanks to legislation signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

"Every day, we dispose of valuable prescription drugs simply because their recipients have died or no longer need the prescriptions, and meanwhile there are people going without medication simply because they cannot afford it,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5148. “This will provide vital drugs for people who cannot afford them, provided the drugs have not been opened and are still sealed and still well within their expiration dates.”

Keiser developed the legislation after learning — while serving on the board of a local nursing home — that current law requires that unused prescription drugs must be discarded.

“Thousands of dollars of perfectly usable unopened drugs are thrown away every month now,” she said. “It is a huge waste of valuable medicines that will save thousands of dollars in prescription drug costs.”

Keiser’s legislation allows health care practitioners, pharmacists, medical facilities, drug manufacturers and drug wholesalers to donate prescription drugs and supplies to pharmacies for redistribution, under strict controls. The drugs or supplies must be inspected before dispensing and determined not to have been unsealed or otherwise adulterated or misbranded. The drugs also must bear expiration dates that are more than six months after the date of donation. The drugs may be issued to individuals who are uninsured and at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“These drugs can improve quality of health and life for people in communities across our state,” Keiser said. “It’s not too strong to say that, in some cases, the donation of these drugs may extend life and prevent deaths. There’s no telling how many people this can help.”

The new law takes effect July 1, 2014.