[caption id="attachment_58569" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Health First Pharmacy's current location at 9070 Windsor Rd."][/caption]

WINDSOR -- Health First Pharmacy in Windsor is planning to relocate and expand its operations, which will enable it to add sterile compounding services, making it the second such pharmacy in Sonoma County to target drug shortages faced by health care providers by offering custom-made prescriptions.

The integrative and compounding pharmacy is currently in 1,330 square feet at 9070 Windsor Rd. In the next six to 12 months, though, the pharmacy hopes to move into some 2,350 square feet of space across the street, in two properties that were purchased recently, according to owner Mark Burger. The two new spaces -- at 975 square feet and 1,375 square feet, respectively -- are adjacent to one another and the plan is to knock down the wall and combine the locations into one, Mr. Burger said.

The new space will permit Health First to add a clean room, where sterile compounding can take place, and a non sterile lab. The retail operation will also be moved into the new space, Mr. Burger said, adding that the increased capacity will allow the pharmacy to take on more orders to its already busy line of custom-made drugs for doctors and patients.

[caption id="attachment_58570" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Mark Burger"][/caption]

"We've known for some time there was a need," Mr. Burger said. "We want to fulfill that need here."

Hospitals and other providers across the region are faced with an increasing shortage of prescription drugs, including  some of the most basic medicines or ingredients used in them, such as sodium chloride. Shortages can occur for a number or reasons, including poorly manufactured drugs, or if the manufacturer simply stops making a drug because of profitability.

There are more than 200 drugs on a national shortage list, running a wide range from drugs used for anesthesia to pain killers to blood thinners and even veterinary drugs, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Just a few years ago, the list contained a little over 100 drugs.

As long as a drug is on the national shortage list, any pharmacist is free to make and market them. If and when the shortage is over, a pharmacist can no longer manufacturer the drug.

In addition to offering sterile compounding at the new space, Mr. Burger said the pharmacy will include laboratory services for blood draws and may include room for physicians to do consultations.

"It's big enough that we want to add a lab station. A lot of people don't have insurance and labs are expensive," he said. "And it fits in with our business model.

"We can have doctors come in that want to practice one day or so a week in the space," he added, noting that the pharmacy could likely draw Naturopath physicians, or NMDs.

Upon opening the sterile compounding center, Health First would be one of only a few pharmacies with both a retail operation and compounding in the county and the only independent one. Pharmica, a Colorado-based chain, has similar stores in Sonoma, Novato and Napa, among other Northern California locations. In June of this year, Redwood Compounding opened in Rohnert Park, although it does not have a retail operation.

Mr. Burger said the shortage of drugs affects a wide range of health care providers, including veterinarians, hospice providers and numerous other providers.

"It's not just hospitals," he said, noting that seemingly simple applications such as eye drops have to be sterile and can be made in the new space. 

Initially, Health First will seek to sublet its existing location until the lease expires, at which point it hopes to move into the new space, which has already been purchased. It may sublet the new space on a month-to-month basis until it's ready to move in permanently, Mr. Burger said.

Mr. Burger said Health First, as an integrative pharmacy, is in a good position to capitalize on what he said is an emerging model of functional medicine that addresses not simply one condition at a time but instead a more preventive model.

"Our whole front end is driven my medicine like that," he said. "That's why we call ourselves integrative."