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Donating medical items
This page tells you what you need to know about donating unused medications, personal care products, medical supplies and equipment.
It seems like a win-win situation to share the things we have with people who need them, and it is possible to donate medical items under certain conditions. Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks to donating medical items. For example, overseas donations of unused items, particularly medications, can become a burden to the recipients, especially in nations where proper disposal options are limited.
For health care facilities, the best thing over the long term is to operate with no "waste," rather than counting on sending unused items to others. You could then dedicate your cost savings to a charity so it can purchase exactly what it needs.
What you may not donate
The following items cannot be donated.
- Opened personal care products, such as shampoo and lotion. Households could share these items with friends and family. Otherwise, dispose of them.
- Unexpired prescription medications from households. Except as allowed under the Wisconsin Drug Repository mentioned below, most charities will not accept them.
- Expired (outdated) medications. These are waste and should be managed accordingly.
- Controlled substances. Federal Drug Enforcement Administration rules only allow certain people to possess prescribed controlled substance medications, and do not allow donation.
For more information on proper disposal of pharmaceuticals, see:
- How to safely dispose of household pharmaceutical waste.
- Safe disposal of non-household pharmaceutical waste
What you may donate
- Certain drugs from homes. Wisconsin allows a few particular pharmacies to take back unit doses of drugs for cancer and chronic diseases. These drugs may be donated for re-issuance through the Wisconsin Drug Repository.
- Unexpired, unopened prescription medications from businesses and institutions. These may be donated to health practitioners who have authority to dispense drugs and organizations authorized to accept medications from businesses and institutions. If the drugs meet World Health Organization guidelines for donating drugs, they may be donated overseas. Veterinarians are able to use some medications as well (call first). If you see an opportunity to donate medications, approach with caution and research the program well.
- Medical supplies and equipment, such as wheelchairs. See below for a list of organizations that accept donations.
International donations should follow these sets of guidelines for drugs or equipment.
- World Health Organization guidelines for donating drugs
- World Health Organization guidelines for health care equipment donations
- American College of Clinical Engineering's Guidelines for Medical Equipment Donation
Wisconsin organizations that accept donations
If you have items to donate, the following organizations either accept donations or can help you gather or distribute items to where they are needed most. Always contact the organization before sending donations.
- Donate locally to AIDS support groups, the American Red Cross, schools, animal shelters, veterinarians and health practitioners who volunteer locally or overseas.
- IndependenceFirst, Inc. currently accepting mobility devices and other medical equipment and supplies.
- Sharing Resources Worldwide collects surplus medical supplies, gently used medical equipment, wheelchairs, walkers, prosthetic supplies, school and craft supplies, linens, and other items and distributes them locally and worldwide. Does not accept medications.
Other organizations that accept donations
- Direct Relief International provides essential material resources to locally run health programs in poor areas around the world and during times of disaster.
- Dispensary of Hope recovers surplus medications from manufacturers and physicians and redistributes them to charitable clinics and pharmacies across the country.
- MedShare accepts medical supplies (no equipment).
- Project C.U.R.E. accepts non-expired drugs from health care facilities and donates them to legitimate nonprofits, locally or internationally.
- Sirum accepts unopened, unexpired medications from health care facilities, manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies and connects the medications to patients in need.
- World Vision Product Donation helps match institutional donation of medical supplies and other items with suitable non-profit recipients.
The following organizations can serve as resources for medical item donations, but do not necessarily accept donations themselves.
- Med-Eq is a non-profit clearinghouse for donated medical supplies. It screens donations to ensure items can be used by the recipient.
- Practice Greenhealth has a list of other organizations that accept donations (search for "resources for donations").
- Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World (REMEDY) does not accept donations, but offers training to explain how to collect and distribute excess supplies within the operating room suite.
- International Outreach has developed guides for responsible redistribution of medical supplies and equipment and for assessing and selecting high quality Medical Surplus Recovery Operations.