Custom medication businesses increase in west Travis County

When pharmacist Adam Metcalf's ailing mother needed a prescription to help her bedsores and wounds, Metcalf said he prepared a medicine specifically designed to meet the 63-year-old's needs.

He created a topical formula with antibiotic and antifungal agents from her prescribed medication. He also added a medicine that would allow the cream to be easily absorbed and increase blood flow.

The nurses caring for Metcalf's bedridden mother, an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, patient, were surprised to see how rapidly she was healing with help from the compound, he said.

Metcalf, with pharmacist Jana Dowling, will open Hill Country Apothecary, a compounding pharmacy, in Lakeway this November. The new 2,500-square-foot facility is one of what will be six compounding pharmacies in the Lake Travis and Westlake areas.

Compounding pharmacies create custom medications, such as the cream Metcalf made for his mother. The medicines they produce are specialized for each patient, he said.

"The population in general is wanting more unique medications for themselves," Metcalf said. "We are delving deeper into what our body needs and the makeup of our medications."

Metcalf said that compounded medications are used for numerous issues including hormone therapy, anti-aging, pain management and dental uses.

Many of the compounds produced by pharmacist Joan McChristian, who works at Northwest Hills Pharmacy at Davenport, are for dermatologic needs, she said.

McChristian cites specific dosages, the ease of combining multiple medications into one dose and the ability to create a product not otherwise available as reasons for the popularity of compounding pharmacies.

Metcalf said compounding pharmacies are not trying to compete with big-box stores. In fact, compounding pharmacies won't make FDA-approved medications that are already being made by manufacturers, he said.

However, compounding pharmacies can make varying strengths of a medication, change its form from pill to liquid, and alter its taste to better fit the needs of a specific patient, he said.

Lake Hills Pharmacy is scheduled to open in the Uplands Village Shopping Center by 2014, and pharmacist Jim Martin said the store will compound medications in-house with free home delivery in a limited area. Martin and his wife, pharmacist Dorinda Martin, are co-owners of the establishment as well as compounding pharmacies in Dripping Springs and Austin.

"We had no compounders [in western Travis County], so the new pharmacies will be filling a void," Jim Martin said.

Jim Martin, a Lakeway resident, said that his Dripping Springs pharmacy had been the closest compounding pharmacy to the Lakeway area for years.

"Compounding [of medicines] has been around long before manufacturing," said Austin Compounding Pharmacy owner Tom Schnorr, who has almost exclusively focused on compounding since 1983.

About 80 percent of Schnorr's prescriptions are compounded, with the national average being 10 percent, he said.

Mass manufacturing of medicine began in the 1940s and grew in the 1980s, he said. Because of a medicine shortage in the late 1980s, patients turned to compounding pharmacies once again, he said. With the current popularity of bioidentical hormones, or natural hormone replacement therapy, compounding pharmacies are now on the rise, he said.