CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eighty years ago, pharmacists used sugar water and flour to make thick, viscous liquid, which they poured onto flat plates and cut into pills.
The industry has changed.
For most pharmacists that means that most medications arrive to them already made. For Loop Pharmaceuticals in St. Albans, it means something else entirely: At Loop, they still mix their own medications, but they use more advanced technology.
Loop's founder and co-owner, Bill McFarland, can make 2,000 capsules in an hour if he needs to, plus injectibles, emollients and gummy bears filled with medicine. His arsenal of supplies includes expensive ointment mills, electronic mixers and an ultrasound machine that cleans whatever is inside it by separating molecules.
Loop is one of a small number of pharmacies in the country that specialize in compounding, the processes through which pharmacists are able to customize medications. Sometimes they take medications that typically exist in tablet form and make suspensions so children can take them. Other times they're making something based on the specifics of a patient's condition.
"Quite frankly, it is very time- consuming to do it," McFarland said. "There has to be a mastery of knowledge to do it and do it well."
They're working in a small niche, but one with broad implications. Loop is one of only a few pharmacies in the state compounding, and they serve customers throughout West Virginia and its neighboring states — they're licensed to deliver medications to Kentucky, Virginia and Ohio.
Forty-five years ago, McFarland was midway through pharmacy school when he ran out of money to pay for it — so he quit and joined the Army. More specifically, he joined a program to train pharmacy technicians.
"I got into that at a time when they really had not updated the teaching or the curriculum, so they taught us a curriculum that really had its roots back in the 1940s," he said.
"I spent most of my time in that training learning how to compound. I knew everything there is about physical chemistry and suspension, but not about how modern pharmacy was."
That was frustrating at the time, but eventually gave way to opportunity. When, in 1984, McFarland decided to open his own pharmacy, he did it in an area saturated with pharmacies. But he noticed that none of them were doing compounding, so he started promoting that part of his business.
Now compounding makes up the bulk of Loop's business and functions as an integral part of West Virginia's health care system. McFarland still does compounding in the pharmacy, along with four other pharmacists. They recruit employees from across the country and give them the training they need — all kinds of hand-on work that that they don't get in pharmacy school.
"It takes years of training to be effective so we don't hire every day," McFarland said. "But it's really easy to find people because the kind of pharmacy we practice is just plain fun."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.