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When oral medications are not an option, compounding is

Geremi Boom, B.S., C.PhT.

“Help, my daughter can’t swallow capsules; my dog needs to take a medication every day; my mom is too ill to swallow her medication.” Have you ever been confronted with a similar situation: your little child is sick and in need of a particular medication, but the only available dosage form is a huge capsule, or you need medications for a pet or a loved can no longer swallow properly? Fortunately the answer to these scenarios and many other is simple: A compounding pharmacy.

Every person is different, so it isn’t surprising that stock pharmacy items don’t always work. Often, age and physical limitations can prevent some patients from taking medications in their manufactured form. As in the example above, a small child who needs a medication would not be able to swallow a large capsule and just cutting a capsule or trying to take half a dose is not a good option. However, through prescription compounding, pharmacists can prepare the medication in the correct dosage form and strength. 

Prescription compounding dates back to the beginning of pharmacy practice, when virtually all medications were prepared “from scratch.” It has declined in popularity in recent decades due to the expansion of pharmaceutical manufacturing by drug companies. However, it is once again on the increase as more & more physicians seek to tailor drug therapies for their patients.

The practice of compounding medications offers many benefits since it allows for the customization of drug therapies by providing medicines in new dosage forms, strengths or flavors. Compounding pharmacists and technicians receive specialized training in prescription compounding.

Prescription compounding can be used to:

  • Crush tablets and make them into a suspension, solution or syrup
  • Provide medications that have been discontinued by the manufacturer or that are no longer available from a manufacturer
  • Make custom capsules (immediate- or sustained-release or combine multiple medications into one capsule)
  • Compound an oral medication into suppository form for those who have difficulty swallowing
  • Make dye-free, sugar-free or lactose-free products for patients allergic to these inactive ingredients
  • Prepare creams, lotions, ointments and transdermal (PLO) gels
  • Compound and flavor medications for pets
  • Flavor bitter or unpalatable medications for children

To have a medication compounded, a prescription must be written by a licensed medical practitioner for a specific patient, and then the prescription must be taken to a pharmacy that offers compounding services, such as Flagstaff Pharmacy. Compounding pharmacies provide solutions (with physician approval) that help patients and families minimize costs, increase comfort and lower side effects. Not every patient has a regular need for compounded medications, but compounding does impact many patients in various situations. Compounded medications are legal, safe and often the most cost-effective options. When faced with a prescription issue that has no apparent solution, it may be wise to check with a compounding pharmacist.

Geremi Boom, B.S., C.PhT., is a certified pharmacy technician at Flagstaff Pharmacy, a division of Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit