What is a Compounding Pharmacy?

The traditional role of compounding pharmacies is to make drugs prescribed by doctors for specific patients with needs that can’t be met by commercially available drugs.

I’ve been working at Stacy’s Compounding Pharmacy, in Atlanta, Georgia, for 20 years, and many customers have walked in the lobby and asked “just what is a compounding pharmacy?

When I was a child, I would go to Alpha Drugs, in Alpharetta, Georgia, and while I browsed the comic books I would watch the Pharmacists stirring up mixtures in their mortars with pestles. 50 years later I would do that every day.

A compounding pharmacy is a specific type of pharmacy. They can make customized medications for you, a family member, or even your pet. Some people and animals need medications that aren’t commercially available. They may not be mass-produced, patients may be allergic to certain ingredients,

drugs may be unavailable for long time periods, the need for a different dosage form (e.g. a liquid instead of pills), or need of a specific medication strength. Allergies play a key role. People are sometimes allergic to lactose, so they can’t take the pre-manufactured tablets available.

We can make lactose-free, dye-free, even gelatin-free capsules in these cases. Sometimes animals need human medication but because of weight, a much smaller dose. They may even need the medication but in a non-manufactured suspension or even a transdermal gel (rubbed into the ear pinna).

A compounding pharmacy needs a valid prescription from a licensed doctor in order to put your prescription together, a compounding pharmacy just may need a little more time since they are actually mixing up your medication from scratch.

Anyone who needs a medication made up that is different in some way than a commercial manufactured pharmaceutical product may benefit from getting a compounding prescription. Compounding also benefits prescribers, as not every treatment currently has a manufactured option.

Maybe a prescriber has found that a mixture of ingredients in a cream, capsule, or solution really helps patients suffering from a certain condition and the doctor wants them to have their therapy altogether in one product.

Alternatively, maybe the doctor feels that a person should be on a strength of a medication that doesn’t exist in the manufactured product — the doctor can order a customized dose from a compounding pharmacy that can help avoid messy pill splitting or potential dosing errors for the patient.

Depending on what is being crafted for you, this can be very time-consuming, painstaking, or require expensive equipment, so it is possible that the cost is higher than what you may expect to pay for a prescription for tablets that were only counted out into a bottle.

Most compounding will be self-pay, you may try to get reimbursement from your insurance company that sometimes has a special procedure for compounds. Compounding pharmacies can make items like eye drops, injections, creams, ointments, suppositories, troches, transdermal gels, capsules, and suspensions.


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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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