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Going green while keeping cool

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OptumRx launches 100% sustainable packaging for home delivery

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Many modern specialty drugs and maintenance medications are quite temperature-sensitive, where just a few degrees difference in the storage temperature can have a big impact on their effectiveness as a therapy.1

But there’s another temperature-sensitivity we all need to be concerned with: the earth; our home. Many shipping containers used to protect drugs in transit utilize polystyrene foam, which is associated with environmental concerns such as ozone depletion and global warming, and is not considered biodegradable.2

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The challenge, then, is to not only deliver temperature-controlled medications, but to do so in an environmentally friendly way. That’s why we are proud to announce that OptumRx has introduced sustainable packaging for our home delivery service. The new, cotton-based packaging material has eliminated the use of polystyrene in our home delivery facilities while keeping drugs at a safe temperature. By the end of 2018, all packaging used in OptumRx home delivery pharmacies, BriovaRx specialty pharmacies and BriovaRx infusion pharmacies, will be recyclable, a first for a large-scale pharmacy care services company.

Yet, packaging is only part of the story. OptumRx has developed a strict temperature-controlled shipping and storage supply system to expedite and safeguard a drug’s journey from the drug manufacturer to OptumRx home delivery facilities to the member. Indeed, our logistical “cold chain” not only meets but exceeds industry standards.

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For the rest of the industry, 24 hours of protection is standard.3 But OptumRx packaging is designed to maintain a given temperature over a 35-hour shipping and delivery window, a full 45 percent improvement.4 Our extended standard takes into account the time drugs spend waiting on loading docks and other delays, which the shorter 24 hour standard does not.

In addition to time, the other critical variable is temperature. Accordingly, specialty medication shipping boxes need to be engineered to exacting specifications. Both drug manufacturers and the US Food and Drug Administration will define the correct shipping and storage temperature for a given drug.

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For example, with many medications, both high AND low temperatures matter.5 Just as high temperatures can damage a medication’s potency, a medication that is inadvertently frozen may lose efficacy. Finally, not only do the boxes need to keep a medicine within a strict temperature range for an extended period of time but they also need to physically protect the medicine from damage.

For decades, the interior packaging material of choice was polystyrene foam, which is lightweight, inexpensive, and has great insulating qualities. However, as mentioned, polystyrene has some major drawbacks. In addition to the potential contributions to global warming, according to some estimates, it may take a polystyrene cup at least 500 years to degrade in the natural environment.6

Finding an environmentally-friendly substitute capable of meeting the rigid standards of OptumRx was not easy. OptumRx packaging engineers worked with several external companies to develop new packaging materials which could match our benchmarks. After rigorous testing and performance evaluations, the engineers opted for a cotton-based insulation which is biodegradable, compostable as well as reusable in everything from pet beds to weed barriers.

Since launching, the new packaging has been used to deliver nearly 1 million prescriptions. OptumRx expects to fill 2 million prescriptions with the new packaging by the end of 2018.

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We estimate that switching to the new packaging will save 1.84 million pounds of CO2 emissions. Looking forward, we expect this packaging to pay even greater dividends as the use of temperature-sensitive biologic drugs expands, putting even greater demands on the cold chain.

The health of the environment plays an important role in the health of every community. OptumRx is committed to minimizing our impact on the environment through responsible business operations and creating a company culture that heightens our employees’ awareness of the importance of preserving the environment and conserving energy and natural resources.

Contact your consultant or OptumRx representative to learn more about OptumRx home delivery and our environmentally friendly packaging.

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References

  1. Vital Record. “Drug Stability: How storage conditions affect their performance.” Accessed at: https://vitalrecord.tamhsc.edu/drug-stability-storage-conditions-affect-performance/
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge: 1996 Greener Reaction Conditions Award. Sept. 7, 2016. Accessed at: https://www.epa.gov/greenchemistry/presidential-green-chemistry-challenge-1996-greener-reaction-conditions-award
  3. International Safe Transit Association. Practical Application of ISTA Lane Data to Pharmaceutical Cold Chain Strategies. Accessed at: https://mms.ista.org/members/store_product.php?orgcode=ISTA&pid=21333355
  4. Internal OptumRx study results. Reported as of August, 2016
  5. New York Times. “Storage Temperature May Affect Medication.” Accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/health/16consumer.html
  6. Sciencing. “Is Styrofoam Biodegradable?” Accessed at: https://sciencing.com/styrofoam-biodegradable-22340.html
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STATEMENT REGARDING FINANCIAL INFLUENCE:
This article is directed solely to its intended audience about important developments affecting the pharmacy benefits business. It is not intended to promote the use of any drug mentioned in the article and neither the author nor OptumRx has accepted any form of compensation for the preparation or distribution of this article.

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