The New Pharmacy

These 21st-century health centers offer a full range of complementary and alternative medicine

The New Pharmacy
Pin it Angela Wyant

Instead of a harried lunch hour spent rushing from the drugstore to the health-food store to the bookstore, imagine this scenario: You walk into your local pharmacy to drop off a prescription for antibiotics. While you wait, you have a cup of tea and research Chinese medicine at a computer kiosk. Next, you take a seat at a blood-pressure machine for a quick reading. You ask the on-call naturopath about the best remedy for your husband's insomnia. When your prescription is ready, the harmacist advises you on what herbs interact with your medication. It sounds like a fantasy, but "natural" or "integrative" pharmacies--providing everything from aestheticians to Zoloft--are popping up across the country. They often serve as community centers, offering workshops, lectures, libraries and a rotating staff of expert consultants for the health-conscious consumer.

"This is the store of the future," says Paul W. Lofholm, Pharm.D., clinical professor of pharmacy at the University of California at San Francisco. "Patients will seek out those who have expertise on their staff to find out what they have to offer--whether it's nutrition, medication, or education--all under the rubric of wellness."

spanning the spectrum
Driving the demand for this new model of pharmacy are the Baby Boomers, who came of age during the open-minded 1960s and must now struggle with the "less is more" policies of HMOs, which provide little if any preventive care. So it's no surprise that this generation has turned to complementary treatments. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 83 million Americans have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine, and the largest segment of CAM users is the 50-to-64 age group.

It makes sense that these consumers, highly educated and proactive about their health, are spurring on a new model of care. "Boomers are approaching health in a new way from the previous generation," says AARP spokesman Mark Beach. "They are willing to look at alternative medicines and explore other health-care options.

blurring the lines
According to the business model of the Boulder, Colo.-based Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, the answer is to transform small, traditional pharmacies into places where customers can get the best of conventional and natural medicines. After just four years, the company runs eight stores in Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon, and their top-selling products are evenly distributed between supplements and prescription medicine. "The lines between mainstream and counterculture are pretty blurred," says Russell Precious, Pharmaca's vice president of design and branding.

Pharmaca's stores are staffed with naturopathic doctors, nurses, nutritionists, herbalists, homeopaths and aestheticians. Pharmacists are highly knowledgeable about supplement use and drug/herb interactions. To maintain a neighborhood feel, the pharmacies include spaces for people to relax, sit, drink tea or study. Four of Pharmaca's locations are "heritage sites" that have been restored or enhanced, and three have compounding pharmacies. "In the '50s and '60s, everything used to be compounded," says Precious. "It's kind of a lost art that is being revived."

compound phases
A surge of interest in compounding pharmacies--where medication is customized to meet individual patient needs--can be seen in venues like Hickey Chemists in New York and ApothéCure in Dallas. This blend of science and art appeals to those who require traditional drugs but also want to maintain as natural a lifestyle as possible. Consumers can get custom compounds free of unnecessary ingredients, such as dyes, alcohol, preservatives, wheat and sugar.