KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A staff pharmacist in Kansas helped spur a change in state law that has led to $20 million in donations of unused prescription medications to low-income and uninsured residents.

Tim Reel looked on last week at the Duchesne Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas, as leaders of drug company OptumRx, United Healthcare and Gov. Jeff Colyer celebrated the millions of dollars in prescription drugs donated to tens of thousands of Kansas residents who can’t afford it, the Kansas City Star reported .

The donations began 10 years ago when Reel spoke with his boss at OptumRx about the shipments of unused medication that regularly get sent back to him. Some shipments are dented or have scuffed packaging. Others come from nursing homes or hospitals after patients either no longer need them or have died.

“I asked my boss if we could donate it,” Reel said. “He said, ‘I don’t think we can. There’s no law that allows it.'”

Reel’s boss was a member of the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy, a regulatory group that licenses Kansas pharmacies. The board worked with lawmakers on a bill to allow donations of unused, unopened prescription drugs.

The Kansas Unused Medication Donation Act of 2008 allows adult care homes, mail service pharmacies and medical care facilities to donate medication in its original packaging to 38 safety-net clinics and medical centers in Kansas that serve low-income and uninsured residents.

“There are several medications I take that I would not have been able to afford,” said Trudy Taylor, who received insulin through the donation program. “I’d probably be in the hospital or worse without the insulin.”

The program is administered by one of the clinics, where staff keeps an inventory of what medications are available and takes orders online from other clinics. Expired medication and controlled substances like opioid painkillers are prohibited.

Reel said his proposal for drug donations 10 years ago is a lesson for “lowly” front-line employees.

“Keep your eyes open and if you think you might be able to help, jump in,” he said. “And keep at it. This didn’t happen overnight.”

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com