Custom medications  to fit the unique needs  of each individual patient Cover photography by Omeed Askari, Askario Photo

Custom medications to fit the unique needs of each individual patient

OC Pharmacy LongWhen you’re feeling under the weather and need your prescription filled, there is something said for speedy service that is professional and above all: caring. Chances are, you’ve spent more time than you wanted to in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, you don’t feel well, and the last thing you want to do is stop somewhere else to fill your prescriptions.
All of it is enough to make you want to call your mother to come take care of you. Well, that’s exactly what the folks at OC Pharmacy had in mind when they opened for business.

“It’s about being family. It’s about offering and delivering a higher standard of care for our patients,” says MJ Kazemi, owner of San Juan Capistrano-based OC Pharmacy. “OC Pharmacy opened in August 2008 on the premise that patients are people, not prescriptions. Big drugstores pressure pharmacists and their staff to increase their daily prescription count. We’re not about that here. We want people to feel welcome and comfortable when they walk in. Because we are so specialized in care, we make the time to listen to your needs and address any questions you might have. It’s also our duty to make sure you get a good deal for your medicine.”

A traditional pharmacy can only dispense commercial drugs from large brand and generic drug companies (such as Pfizer, Teva, Greenstone, etc.) – referred to as “Big Pharma” in the industry. A compounding pharmacy, on the other hand, can dispense those commercial drugs in addition to creating customized doses and combinations of drugs within a lab at the pharmacy.

1809SCM 22As an example of what a compounding pharmacy can do that a traditional pharmacy cannot, MJ states, that “If baby is born with organ failure. The doctor wants to prescribe a drug that doesn’t exist in a dose safe for newborns. MJ can take the tablet form of the prescribed medication and make it into a solution of a lower, baby-safe, dose. The next problem is that many medicines have a coating that masks the flavor of the medicine and helps with digestion. When these tablets are crushed, the nasty bitter flavor is exposed. Through trial and error (or the baby’s parents’ input), we become aware of the baby’s favorite flavor and are able to create a pediatric dose of a medication in solution form. They can then provide a special pacifier that will deliver the flavored medication to the baby without any fuss.”

“Some patients suffer from painful conditions where their nerves “fire” too fast, sending constant pain signals to the brain,” says MJ. “Most physicians will prescribe narcotics for the pain, but that doesn’t really address the problem. We can make a topical pain cream that both helps quell the pain and calm the nerves down so they aren’t firing so fast. With that type of compound, we address the problem – the nerve – and over time the patient requires less pain medication - thereby avoiding oral narcotic addiction. There are cases where patients will even self-taper from oral narcotics while using topical pain management compounds.”

To create a particular pharmaceutical product to “fit the unique needs of each individual,” MJ combines and/or processes appropriate ingredients, according to a physician’s prescription, utilizing various tools in the compounding lab. This may be done for medically necessary reasons (i.e. changing the form of a medication from a solid pill to a liquid), to avoid a non-essential ingredient that a person may be allergic to, or to obtain a specific dose of a particular ingredient, or combination of ingredients, and dispensed in way that makes it easier for the patient to ingest or apply.

The core of OC Pharmacy’s customer base runs the gamut from infants to seniors and everyone in between, for every imaginable ailment or disease condition that can be better treated with custom medications (compounds).

“People going through menopause and andropause see magnificent benefits from bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) compounds. Older folks with arthritis can find solace in our topical arthritis compounds. Diabetic patients can form painful open sores on their feet – sores that can heal much better with custom compounds designed to keep the wound clean and promote faster healing,” says MJ. “Fussy babies will take their medication with ease when it’s flavored and dispensed through our special baby-binky dispenser or baby bottle dispensing devices. Many young athletes who are hurt on the field can use topical pain compounds instead of taking oral narcotics (and potentially heal faster!). Men and women who suffer from sexual dysfunctions can use customized compounds to help them resolve things in the bedroom.

“The possibilities are endless. The sky is the limit. We believe compounding is the way medicine should be. Doctors don’t dole out the same diagnosis to everyone, nor do they recommend the same dose of a drug to every patient - so why should our medicine be standardized?”

Medicare enrollment and your local pharmacy

Plans change every year, even the one you currently have. So to help their customers navigate the process, the professionals at OC Pharmacy have teamed up with local Medicare insurance specialists, Stephen and Denice Merrill. Together, they will sit down with patients, beginning in October, to review their 2019 Medicare insurance options.

“We will walk the patient through the entire plan selection process, from comparison of pricing, services, when they might fall into the Medicare gap (aka donut hole), even whether they will be forced to mail order or not,” says MJ. “They’ll make the Medicare enrollment call here in the pharmacy with one of our employees. At the end of the process, the patient will know exactly how much they’ll be paying out of pocket for 2019, and the pharmacy will have the new Medicare insurance information, in addition to helpful information such as whether a patient will need to switch to an alternative drug to save money. These time savers let us work with the doctor, months in advance, to make sure the transition to 2019 is smooth for the patient, the doctor, and the pharmacy.”

As an added bonus, OC Pharmacy is offering this Medicare enrollment service at no charge through year-end 2019.

Customized care and uncompromising customer service

Before mass production of medications, community pharmacists with compounding experience were more common. Today, these specialists are fewer and far between. But luckily for those of us who live in South County, OC Pharmacy is truly our “neighborhood” pharmacy with all the “extras” and personal attention to detail you won’t find in a chain-store experience.

1809SCM 15Add this to their free local delivery service (in San Juan Capistrano) and the large number of insurance companies they deal with, and you are sure to become a lifelong fan. Even if you don’t live locally, they deliver for a nominal fee and will also ship to California addresses.

“We wanted to bring back the tradition of providing quality healthcare,” says MJ’s son, Omeed Askari. “Because of this, we have grown so much and it’s our ultimate goal to be the top, if not only choice of personalized pharmacy in the area.”

Speaking of growing, OC Pharmacy has their happy patients to thank for that! Word-of-mouth advertising has reached many local households, and people rave they have never felt more cared for and listened to than at OC Pharmacy. In addition to its stellar service, OC Pharmacy also offers immunizations (see sidebar on flu shots), diabetic supplies and durable equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers.

The OC Pharmacy family consists of pharmacists who hold PharmD degrees from excellent schools and are registered pharmacists (RPh) in the state of California, Certified Pharmacy Technicians and an administrative team largely comprised of MJ and her family members.

1809SCM 18In addition to always “striving to go the extra mile for the patient,” Omeed adds that OC Pharmacy is part of a professional organization called the Professional Compounding Centers of America (PCCA), which allows MJ and her staff access to thousands of compounding formulas, ideas and resources.

“Some ingredients we use can only be purchased from PCCA, and to do that you must be a member,” says Omeed. “The organization is constantly researching and developing new medication delivery vehicles that helps put us on the cutting-edge of industry knowledge to better serve our clients. Because patients and their specific conditions are unique, each individual’s medicine should be uniquely created for them.”

State of the Industry

While compounding pharmacies offer patients the alternative of a more effective, customized medicine, the industry itself is currently in a state of upheaval and uncertainty, according to MJ.

1809SCM 17Many national chain pharmacies are owned by insurance companies who wield influence with politicians and drug companies. As a result, local, independent compounding pharmacies are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in an environment of unfair pricing and reimbursement practices, she says.

“It’s imperative that patients who wish to have the option of customized medicine make their opinions known to their local representatives and state policy-makers, otherwise having the choice of using a compounding pharmacy may be another casualty in today’s ever-changing healthcare industry.”

Because flu season is predicted to be long this year, Omeed has taken steps to prepare the community: “We are scheduled to receive our vaccines late August/early September. At the final San Juan Summer Nights event on September 19th, we will offer a flu immunization clinic. Attendees will get a special discounted rate of $20, as opposed to $30 in-store. Patients who have egg allergies, who typically cannot get immunized, should contact us for information about an egg-allergy free version of the vaccine. All of our vaccines will be preservative and latex-free.”

Speak to the experts at OC Pharmacy today by calling (949) 429.5326. They are delighted to answer any questions you might have. OC Pharmacy is located at 31654 Rancho Viejo Road in San Juan Capistrano. Visit www.ocpharmacy.net for locations, hours and more information. Check them out on Instagram and Facebook (via links on their website) where MJ (owner and pharmacist in charge) will be posting more videos about pharmacy topics, suggestions, reccomenations, and reminders, while responding to questions submitted via Instagram.