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You may qualify for free prescription drugs

Many Americans find it difficult to afford prescription drugs. Some go without food or utilities in order to afford their prescribed medication. Others simply stop taking it.

Yet there is a program developed by pharmaceutical companies that provides free prescription drugs. It is called the "Indigent Patient Drug Program." The name is a bit misleading.

This program is aimed at individuals who meet certain income levels determined by individual pharmaceutical companies or who pay for their medication out-of-pocket (no drug card through an employer or former employer).

The truly indigent are not eligible for this program because their needs are covered by Medicaid.

About 40 pharmaceutical companies are involved. Their definitions of "indigent" vary widely. Some define it as an annual income of $12,000, others as an annual income of $3,000. Others have no income requirements at all _ only the requirement that a patient is paying for prescription drugs out of her own pocket.

Information about participating drug companies is available through the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Upon request, this office will furnish lists of prescription drugs that are available free and the drug companies that manufacture them.

By comparing the two lists, you can tell which manufacturer you need to contact.

For example, let's say that Harry is taking Imodium. Checking the drug list, Harry finds that Imodium is made by Janssen Pharmaceutica. On the pharmaceutical list, Harry finds Janssen and sees the company's requirements for free drugs: an annual income of less than $25,000 and no prescription drug coverage. Harry calls Janssen's toll-free number, provides the company with his name and address, date of birth and his doctor's name and address. He learns that Janssen will send the doctor a form to fill out so that Harry can receive his next prescription free.

If you think you may qualify for this free prescription drug program, here's what you should do:

Write to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G-31, Washington, DC 20510. State that you want the list of free prescription drugs. Include your name and address (no self-addressed return envelope is needed.)

Or, you can call (202) 224-5364 or (800) PMA-INFO.

Within two weeks you should receive two lists. One will be a list of drugs, with the names of the pharmaceutical companies that make those drugs. The second list will be the addresses and toll-free phone numbers for those pharmaceutical companies.

Give it a try. All it will cost you is 32 cents _ the cost of a stamp _ to get the lists.

_ You can write to Joan Harkins Conklin c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or send her e-mail at