Duane Reade

Regular old drugstores like Duane Reade are good for lots of things, but mixing up and packaging your prescription on-site isn't necessarily one of them. That's where compounding pharmacies come in.

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If you've ever found it impossible to swallow a horse pill with a sore throat or spent 45 minutes coaxing your dog to take the bitter tablet you've mashed into his food, you've probably wished there were a more palatable way to get medication.

A compounding pharmacy might just be the answer. Instead of supplying your bulk-packaged antibiotic or fungal creams, a compounding pharmacy will mix and package your prescription on-site. If a drugstore is the equivalent of a 7-Eleven where you can pick up ready-made apple pie pockets, consider a compounding pharmacy your corner bakery where an individual tart is made just for you.

Except in this case, your tart might be a topical estrogen supplement. That's a typical situation people find themselves in when using a compounding pharmacy. For example, a standard dose estrogen pill is too strong for many women, causing estrogen levels to spike too high. A compounding pharmacy would be able to create an estrogen dosage -- in a capsule, cream or any other number of forms -- that can better regulate the patient's hormone levels.

Have a child who can't stomach the taste of cough syrup? A compounding pharmacy could make it a kid-friendly grape flavor. A patient with an allergy to an inactive ingredient in his or her medication (say, coloring) could ask a compounding pharmacy to get the prescription without the offending variable.

And let's not forget Fido and friends. Compounding pharmacies might just be a godsend the next time you're trying to get your calico cat to swallow a pill. The pharmacy could substitute the pill for a fish-flavored liquid to sprinkle on your kitty's food, saving you the effort (and emotional turmoil) of prying open Fluffy's jaw and shooting a pill down her throat.

In the U.S., almost all original pharmacies did their own compounds until 1938, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took over regulation of manufacturers, which then became the main producers of pharmaceuticals. But in 2012, compounding pharmacies have come under serious scrutiny. Just because your apple tart is homemade, after all, doesn't mean the ingredients are safe. A deadly fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012 (linked to contaminated steroid injections from a compounding pharmacy) even brings up questions about whether compounding pharmacies are bypassing FDA standards for bulk manufacturing.

Let's take a look at some criticisms that compounding pharmacies face.