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Special Report: Medicine Compounding
Health care isn't always one-size-fits-all. That's why doctors and pharmacists sometimes work together to craft a medicine just for you. It's called compounding: essentially, tailor-made meds.
For the past ten years, Gerri Williams has been mixing a blend of vitamins and nutrients for her two kids Austin and Sydney.
"Because they can't swallow pills," she said. "That's the convenience of it too."
With mytochondrial disease, the cells of their bodies can't break down food they eat to turn into energy. That could lead to organ failure. The disease also means they're allergic to some kinds of foods and can't take many commercial drugs.
"They still have challenges and goals they need to reach, but [they've come] so much farther than they could've ever imagined," Williams said. "Doctors gave them a poor prognosis. Now it's like they're moving forward."
The vitamin cocktail, Gerri calls it, is a unique formula, crafted by the Medicine Shoppe in Springfield.
There, pharmacists mix ingredients to tailor to a patient's needs.
"Usually it's helping fill the gaps for unique patients in unique situations," Medicine Shoppe owner Beaux Cole, a registered pharmacist, said.
For those who have allergies, pharmacists can make medicine without fillers and alter dosages to fit the patient's needs.
Compounded drugs can be a liquid, topical cream, a capsule, or any other form a pharmacist can create. They can even make lollipops with meds for kids.
"There are people who don't have anywhere else to go," Cole said. "A lot of times we're looked at as a last resort from some people because they're just not responsive to other treatments."
Dr. Donald Graham specializes in infectious disease, and he prescribes a compounded medicine a couple of times a month.
While they're not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, compounded medicine is derived from FDA-approved meds.
"There is a risk when compounding is done in a potentially contaminated area where ventilation is not adequate or where there's some kind of local contamination that that medication would then be contaminated," Graham said.
Last fall, a menigitis outbreak linked to a contaminated steroid traced back to a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts killed more than 40 people nationwide.
At Medicine Shoppe in Springfield, 30 percent of their business is compounded medicines.
They have three agencies that oversee quality control: the State Board of Pharmacy, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Pharmacists log quality control measures and hire an outside lab for testing compound meds, especially injectables.
For the Williams family, using compounded medicines is worth any risk, and they've never had any problems.
"It's fabulous to see their energy," Williams said. "They play like typical kids now."
Insurance coverage varies for compounded medicines. If you're interested in trying a compounded drug, talk to your doctor first. Then check with your insurance company before seeing the pharmacist.