What’s the Difference Between a Compounding and Retail Pharmacy?

Most of us think of pharmacies in a retail setting. We think of corner drugstores and pharmacies found in local supermarkets and department stores. We also take them for granted. But did you know there is another kind of pharmacy known as the ‘compounding pharmacy’. Do not confuse compounding pharmacies with online pharmacies. Your typical online operation is a retail operation dispensing the same types of prescription drugs you would purchase down at the corner drugstore. Compounding pharmacies are specialized pharmacies capable of doing things retail operations cannot.

How Drugs Are Manufactured

The primary difference between compounding and retail pharmacies is found in the way prescription drugs are manufactured. Retail outlets dispense already manufactured drugs put together in approved formulas. If you were to fill an amoxicillin prescription for example, your retail pharmacy would dispense a certain number of pills from its existing inventory. That’s it. Things are different at a compounding pharmacy. Rather than dispense already-manufactured drugs, they start with a set of base ingredients and combine them to make the drug that will eventually be dispensed. If it helps, think of compounding pharmacies as artisan pharmacies. Before you assume that compounding is bad practice, understand that it was the only way to get prescription medications before the advent of the retail pharmacy. Long before pharmaceutical manufacturers were coming up with static formulas and mass production capabilities, local apothecaries were compounding drugs after consulting with doctors. The practice worked quite well for generations. It still works today.

Advantages of Compounding

Buying prescription drugs from retail pharmacies is the norm in this country. Consumers do not even have to visit a local pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled. Online pharmacies, like Canada Pharmacy, abound. Yet there are advantages to compounding. So much so that compounding is sometimes the only way to get what you need. Compounding offers the following:

1. Multiple Delivery Options

Compounding affords multiple delivery options for the same medication. In most cases, patients can choose from among powders, tablets, capsules, liquids, etc. In the retail setting, you don’t tend to get choices. Believe it or not, delivery method can affect the usefulness of some prescription medications. It can also influence side effects. For example, you might not experience side effects normally observed with tablets by choosing an ointment or lotion instead.

2. Custom Dosing

Another big advantage of compounding is its ability to accommodate custom dosing. There are times when a consumer needs a particular dosage that isn’t available via retail products. A compounding pharmacist can accommodate this by creating the exact dosage recommended by a doctor. In most cases, the best a retail pharmacist can do is select a higher dosage product and then cut it prior to dispensing.

3. Custom Medications

Perhaps the biggest benefit of compounding is its ability to create custom medications. Indeed, much of a compounding pharmacy’s business is the result of this ability. Consumers need customized medications they cannot get from retail pharmacies. If it were not for compounding, they would be forced to go without.

Providing a Valuable Service

The majority of us will go through our lives never having need of a compounding pharmacy. We are served just fine by retail pharmacies dispensing drugs sent to them by manufacturers. Yet it is nice to know that compounding pharmacies are out there if their services are ever needed. Compounding pharmacies produce prescription drugs for dermatology, pain management, sports medicine, and more. You might consider speaking to your doctor about a compounded prescription if the retail products you use do not seem to be as effective as they should be.


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