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Innovative County Program Provides Residents with Free Prescription Medications

Better Health Pharmacy, which collects donations of surplus medications and distributes them free of charge to underserved residents, has helped nearly 15,000 people since opening in 2015

The high cost of living in Silicon Valley puts some residents in the terrible position of having to choose between paying their bills and purchasing prescription drugs they need to stay healthy.

Meanwhile, health care facilities routinely throw away unused medications, paying third parties to dispose of them properly. 

The County of Santa Clara Public Health Department has pioneered an innovative solution to this problem in the form of Better Health Pharmacy, which collects donations of surplus medications and distributes them free of charge to underserved residents. 

Since opening in 2015, Better Health Pharmacy has helped nearly 15,000 people, dispensed more than 215,000 prescriptions, and saved residents $11 million in out-of-pocket expenses. It is the only pharmacy of its kind in California.

A pharmacist helps a customer.
Christian Aguinaldo, a Better Health Pharmacy technician, helps a customer.

Kathy Le, supervising pharmacist at Better Health Pharmacy, said the program reflects the Public Health Department’s equity-focused mission.

"I'm proud to be a part of such an innovative program that removes barriers to health care for thousands of people in Santa Clara County,” said Le. "It's incredibly satisfying to have a direct impact on the lives of residents by helping them obtain necessary medications.”

Better Health Pharmacy collects unused prescription drugs from more than 150 licensed health care facility donors with the help of a nonprofit organization called SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine). Pharmacy staff sort and inspect the donations to ensure quality and safety. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Better Health Pharmacy added mail services, mailing nearly 55,000 prescriptions to residents. The pharmacy also distributed more than 70,000 free COVID-19 antigen tests to the community. 

Better Health Pharmacy has established strong community ties, connecting with social workers, health care providers and retail pharmacies to inform patients with financial hardships about the program. At the same time, Better Health Pharmacy lets patients know about other health-related programs and services from which they could benefit, such as MedAssist, a County program that helps residents pay for health care expenses and life-saving medications. 

Better Health Pharmacy was made possible by a 2005 state law authored by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who was a state senator at the time. The pharmacy has consulted with other counties in California that are interested in developing a similar program. 

The pharmacy does not accept medication donations from individuals or the general public, as California law does not allow those types of donations. People who need to dispose of unwanted prescription medication should use the safe disposal boxes available at many pharmacies, medical offices, and police stations.

For more information on the Better Health Pharmacy, visit on the Public Health Department website.