Your Doctor Says You Need An Apothecary: What Now?

If your doctor recently handed you a prescription and informed you you'll need an apothecary to fill it, what does that mean? What is an apothecary, what do they have to do with your medication, and how do you go about finding one? 

What is an Apothecary?

In olden days, the apothecary worked in a shop were medicines were sold -- often called the apothecary shop, for obvious reasons. Of course, medications in those days were often more herbal-based than they are today, and it was nothing for villagers to seek a cure of chamomile, catnip, or fennel from the apothecary to cure ailments ranging from sore throat to weight loss. 

Today's apothecaries, like Potter's Apothecary, still mix, or compound, drugs, but usually because the form of the drug that's needed isn't available on the commercial market. An apothecary may be called upon to mix up a special batch of children's medicine without dyes or flavorings because an allergy is present, or they may have to add flavoring to a medication to make it more palatable to someone who can't ingest the medicine any other way.

If your physician says you'll need an apothecary to fill your prescription, this means he or she has written you a script for a form of medication not readily available commercially. It will have to be specially mixed, or compounded, by a person legally licensed to do so -- an apothecary. 

Who Employs Apothecaries?

Modern apothecaries work in pharmacies -- often called compounding pharmacies because of the specialized work that happens there. According to the International Association of Compounding Pharmacists, roughly 76 percent of independent pharmacies compound drugs. It's an art that came close to dying out, but then saw a resurgence due to the need to meet specialized needs of patients. 

Why Would an Apothecary Compound a Drug?

Apothecaries may be called upon to compound various medications for a variety of reasons:

  • When a needed medication has been discontinued on the commercial market
  • To combine several medications into one to aid compliance
  • To remove a known allergen, such as flavoring or dye

These are only a few reasons an apothecary may need to customize a medication. There are many others as well. 

Where Can You Find an Apothecary?

You may be able to locate the services of an apothecary by filling your prescriptions through a hospital pharmacy. Since your doctor has written you the script, he or she should be able to recommend a pharmacy that will mix it. 

Depending upon your geographic location, finding a compounding pharmacy in your area can be a challenge. In this instance, you may have to order your prescription online from a pharmacy able to compound it. Usually, if this is the case, your physician should be able to direct you to the website. 

Are Apothecaries as Qualified as Pharmacists?

In the United States, apothecaries and pharmacists are required to meet the same educational requirements, which means college, residency, and licensing. All licensed apothecaries are highly trained in the art of mixing and dispensing medications according to national FDA guidelines. This gives your apothecary the means to legally manipulate your medications to suit your doctor's orders. 

Whether you'll ever need the services of a licensed apothecary is up to your doctor, but if you do, rest assured there are plenty of them available to help customize your prescription as needed. In fact, you may know somebody who has benefited from the services of an apothecary in the past without even realizing it. If your premature infant ever needed to take a minute dosage of medication, or if your elderly relative ever needed a special compounded mix of a liquid drug to make it safer to swallow without choking, then you've benefited from the knowledge and skills of someone who is licensed as an apothecary. It's an art as old as ancient Babylon, and it's just as relevant today as it was then.