Pharmacy mixes and matches

OLYMPIA — Randy Mentzer is traveling a narrower road in his chosen profession, pharmacy.

Unlike mainstream drugstores that dispense prepackaged pharmaceuticals, Mentzer’s store, called Randy’s Compounding Pharmacy & Nutrition Center, is part of the much rarer compounding school of pharmacy.

“Everything we do, we make,” said Mentzer, who offers customers the option of tailoring dosages in uncommon amounts and trying alternative remedies for various maladies.

Mentzer doesn’t pretend to be an option for all patients.

“We’re not rejecting conventional medicine,” he said. “It helps a lot of people, but it doesn’t work all the time.”

Mentzer began his career as a mainstream pharmacist but decided to switch to a compounding-only practice 10 years ago. Also a clinical nutritionist, Mentzer said he decided to begin stressing supplements and nutritional practices as alternative therapies to pills.

The few compounding pharmacists in South Sound occasionally come under attack from doctors who charge that their therapies are unproven, said Port Orchard family practice doctor John Walck, who has prescribed medicine through Mentzer.

“What compounding offers is the opportunity to individualize treatment and prescriptions,” Walck said. “Most people do OK with pills, but if you want something specific, exact and customized, compounding pharmacists are the go-to guys.”

The International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists lists several typical types of patients who tend to gravitate toward pharmacists such as Mentzer: women suffering from hormone imbalances, patients who experience allergic reactions to off-the-shelf medications, patients taking multiple drugs who take them more easily when they’re compounded into a single dose, and patients unable to take drugs orally who need ointments or solutions.

A vitamin substitute helps some of his patients, Mentzer said. He related the story of a woman who found relief from depression using vitamin B6 rather than Prozac.

Compounding pharmacists sometimes get creative. Mentzer, for example, sells lollipops laced with nicotine for people struggling to quit smoking.

“The idea is go from smoking to lollipops to not smoking at all,” Mentzer said. “The goal is to get patients to save their lungs and to quit smoking.”

Pila Loronal said he preferred the drug Mentzer sold him for arthritis as opposed to a drug he said caused him to gain weight and experience swelling.

“The thing about Randy is, he can tailor the prescriptions to my needs,” Laronal said. “It took a little while for it to start working, but when it works, it works really well.”

Patricia Kotsch said the amino acid that Mentzer sold her worked better than estrogen patches to curb her menopausal mood swings.

“It (Theanine) is my magic bullet,” said Kotsch, who said she took capsules of the drug three times a day. “Within forty-eight hours, I felt like a brand-new woman.”

One drawback to visiting compounding pharmacists is that insurance companies often do not cover the therapies and force patients to make claims for reimbursement, Mentzer said. Although he is regulated by state and federal officials, not all of his therapies are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Mentzer said.

“We’re not doing anything illegal,” but lack of FDA approval further limits his potential customer base, he said.

Mentzer said he’s not getting rich catering to a sliver of the drug market, but he stands up for his methods.

“If conventional medicine worked for everyone, we wouldn’t be here,” Mentzer said. “But we have (business) challenges. It is a pretty tough business, and I haven’t gotten rich.”

Mentzer’s store isn’t Olympia’s only compounding pharmacy. DeGarmo’s Compounding Pharmacy, owned by Richard DeGarmo, is at 1907 Harrison Ave. N.W.