Iowa pharmacy students work with drug donation nonprofit to help patients in need

University of Iowa pharmacy students volunteered at SafeNetRx April 13, 2024. (Photo by Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch) Estudiantes de farmacología de la Universidad de Iowa se ofrecieron como voluntarios en SafeNetRx el 13 de abril de 2024. (Foto de Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

By Brooklyn Draisey, Iowa Capital Dispatch

It was business as usual for the SafeNetRx staff working on a recent Saturday morning, sifting through boxes and totes of medication packets, inhalers and medical supplies donated by long-term care centers and clinics. They checked the integrity of the packaging, verified the dosage and expiration, removed any identifying information and filed it away to eventually be sent to a patient in need.

For the three University of Iowa pharmacy students volunteering at the nonprofit for the day, the act of making medicine that would have otherwise been thrown out available for use by those who need it but can’t afford it showed them how they can help their patients now and in the future.


“I think it kind of is an eye-opener, and sort of makes you think more about underserved populations and what goes into helping them,” UI student and pharmacy technician Ellise Wykert said.

SafeNetRx is a Grimes-based nonprofit that takes drug donations from across the country and provides them to pharmacies and clinics in Iowa for patients at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. Staff and volunteers at the organization check to ensure any medications that will be sent out are properly labeled and packaged, and any unusable drugs are safely disposed of.

According to SafeNetRx, more than $121 million worth of medications have been donated and around 141,000 underserved patients have received medication through the nonprofit.


SafeNetRx CEO Jon Rosmann said the nonprofit relies heavily on volunteers to help input the medications, and through partnerships with universities like the UI and Drake University, students will come in for a day or longer to help out.

It’s critical to include students in this work, he said, because it both teaches them that SafeNetRx is here for if their patients need it and shows them that if they can’t access the nonprofit, they can maybe help start one up somewhere else.


“We have so many students that have either done a rotation here, or they might have worked here, they came here through an event with Drake or the University of Iowa, and years later, they will contact us and say, ‘Hey, can you help us with this?’” Rosmann said. “So it does have a very powerful impact.”

(Photo by Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Drake University pharmacy student Elizabeth Mensing has seen the impact she and other students have made on the organization’s work spread into the community first-hand. At the community pharmacy she works at when she’s not interning at the nonprofit, Mensing said a patient was showing her medication he received for free through SafeNetRx, and it was one she had processed herself.


“I love the idea of actually making an impact,” Mensing said. “I also work at a community pharmacy here in town, it doesn’t feel as impactful as what I do here.”

Each of the UI students volunteering at SafeNetRx work in community pharmacies as well, and know just how high the costs of some medications are. University of Iowa student Gabrielle Marty said this issue was one of the reasons she decided to pursue pharmacy, in order to help.  None of them, however, had heard of the nonprofit or knew that resources like it were available.

Now that they know about it, the students plan to go back to the UI and tell others in order to spread the word. They agreed that SafeNetRx is one solution to helping people who can’t afford it receive their meds, but it won’t be able to really solve the problem of high drug costs, and it needs more support to expand and reach more people.

“All these meds could be so useful, but they don’t have the manpower to be able to keep up with the demand for it,” UI pharmacy student Caitlyn Nuehring said.

Rossman said he would like to expand the nonprofit to other states for providing medication, but with no federal standards for drug donations, the 41 states with enabling legislation to allow the creation of organizations like SafeNetRx each have different requirements. Right now the focus is on creating partnerships with people in Nebraska, Vermont and Illinois in the hopes of eventually creating a national drug donation system.

SafeNetRx is one of the organizations University of Iowa Health Care partners with to help lower barriers to medication for its patients. Wenda Ostrem, a UI Health Care pharmacist financial counselor and UI graduate, said the health care system utilizes the nonprofit’s drug repository for patients who need a short-term supply of medication until their insurance kicks in or they get the funds to pay for them.

Ostrem and her team of five pharmacists and six social workers are available to UI Health Care patients who have expressed concerns about being able to afford their medicine. The team will work with the patient to find resources to lower or eliminate the cost of their medication, from grants to discounts to donated drugs like those from SafeNetRx.

In the 20 years since the UIHC Medication Assistance Center was created and Ostrem came into her position, the number of patients utilizing the service has increased slightly year-over year while the total amount saved has risen drastically. Ostrem said a decade ago the center saved patients just under $8 million in one fiscal year, but in the 2022-23 fiscal year, it saved more than $69 million.

This is mostly due to increasing costs of medication, Ostrem said, but as prices have gone up more resources have become available to try and combat them. The most rewarding part of her job is helping patients access the medicine they need without having to mortgage their house or go without food and other necessities. One of the most frustrating things, however, is knowing that some patients decide to not fill prescriptions due to cost without trying to get help.

Ostrem said one of the things she hates to see is patients assuming that they won’t be able to take the medication they need after seeing its price. With the organizations and funds targeting this very issue, those who need help affording their meds have avenues to receiving treatment that will help them become and remain healthy.

“If you get something prescribed and you can’t afford it, just don’t automatically assume that you’re never going to be able to take that medication,” Ostrem said. “Reach out to somebody, reach back out to your provider, talk to your pharmacist, and hopefully somebody will work with you to use one of these resources to lower your costs.”

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