A generation ago, local pharmacists would likely fill your prescription with custom-made concoctions prepared in the back room. 

These days, with rows of commercially patented medicines now filling the shelves of big drug stores, that backroom tradition has mostly faded away.

But not at Parkdale Pharmacy in Charlottetown, which has its own medication compounding laboratory at the back of the store.

Started as compounders

Curious customers can peer through the glass to to watch pharmacists in white smocks and rubber gloves prepare their prescriptions. 

"It's perhaps a return to our roots," says Allan Greene, manager of Parkdale Pharmacy, part of P.E.I.'s family-run chain, Murphy's Pharmacies.

"People forget that pharmacists started out as compounders and used to make a number of medications for people, so we're re-inventing that option."

Allan Greene

Allan Greene, manager of Parkdale Pharmacy, says if a patient can't swallow a pill, the lab can make the medication into liquid form. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The lab produces a half dozen medicines from scratch that are licensed by Health Canada, ranging from Tender Bottoms for infant diaper rash to its Magnesium Glycinate supplement for leg and muscle cramps.

"Health Canada has very strict rules around what you can put in these products," Greene said. "When you apply for a licence, you have to list all the ingredients and provide data that those things are safe for the population they're intended for."

'Not just one solution for all people'

But you might wonder why, with so many patented drugs on the shelves of every drug store, there's a need for the compounding lab.  

"We like to think that there's not just one solution for all people," Greene said. "If someone can't swallow a tablet, and that's the only option, we can make it into a liquid." 

Making Tender Bottoms

Employees in the compounding lab fill jars with a mixture called Tender Bottoms. It's used for diaper rash and is made from calamine and zinc oxide creams (Pat Martel/CBC)

The lab makes numerous individual medications that aren't made commercially because there's not a large enough market. 

"We make creams and ointments, we make suppositories, lollipops, liquids," he said. "We make things for physicians in terms of pain medication creams. We make a number of estrogen and progesterone creams for menopause and we even make testosterone for men for andropause."

'It's very, very safe'

The Murphy's compounding lab has also filled a gap by making formulas discontinued by major drug companies, such as special tablets for motion sickness that only need to be taken once a day. 

"It worked really well, but unfortunately it's not marketed into Canada any longer," Greene said. "It's very, very safe. The Coast Guard loves it and we make that for people if they're going out and need something for motion sickness, that causes no drowsiness."

Compounding Lab

Customers at Parkdale Pharmacy in Charlottetown can peer into the windows of the compounding lab to watch their medications being made. (Pat Martel/CBC)

And not to leave out the furry friends in the family, the lab also mixes up concoctions for veterinarians who can no longer get certain medications.