M’CHIGEENG – On Sunday, July 19, the Island’s newest pharmacy, Sweet Grass Pharmacy and Compounding, is holding a grand opening and pharmacist Neda Debassige is looking forward to serving the Island community.
Ms. Debassige is a compounding pharmacist, which means that she can construct medications to better suit an individual’s needs.
“It’s really common in the States,” said Ms. Debassige. “People are going back to it.”
The reasons are manifold. Ms. Debassige points out that modern medications are constructed largely on a one-size-fits all model, resulting in variances in dosage that increase side effects unnecessarily. “This is especially true of hormone medications such as those for thyroid. Anything above the dose that is needed will give side effects.”
The other issue with many modern medications are the fillers used, she said. “They tend to use the cheapest fillers, anything that is inert. But you don’t know what it might be.”
Yet another positive impact of compounded pharmaceuticals impacts children. “Pills for children often have to be turned into liquids, but they are very bitter,” said Ms. Debassige. By flavouring the liquid to suit the child it becomes much easier to get them to take their dose. “They even ask for it in the morning,” she said.
A huge benefit of compounding medications can be found in pain control. “Many people have difficulties with their stomachs when it comes to pain medications,” explained Ms. Debassige. She, in turn, can often create a topical compound that bypasses the stomach entirely, going right to the source of the pain and dramatically reducing both the amount of painkiller required and the potential for addiction.
“So many people are dealing with addictions that they acquired through medications prescribed for pain management,” said Ms. Debassige.
The pharmacy is also paying close attention to the type and quality of non-prescription medications and vitamins on offer.
“A friend of mine did a study of 15 different brands of vitamin D,” she said. “Only two of them were even close to the 1,000 IUs listed on the bottle.”
Ms. Debassige said her store will only supply those vitamins that are “third party tested.”
She described her journey to opening the pharmacy in M’Chigeeng as “a 15-year labour of love.” That journey began in medical school where she was studying to be a family physician and hoped to return to her home community to serve her people. Over and over again, however, students took in presentations from those in the industry who were telling them that the family doctor was going extinct.
“I was very disillusioned,” she recalled, “really disappointed.”
Moving to the pharmacist program she went on to work in the industry for the next decade. “My specialities are in pain and diabetes,” she said, but noted that she has also focused on addictions.
Her career became very personal when her own father was diagnosed with stage three cancer and given only a 30 percent chance of survival. Even then, a lifelong attachment to a colostomy bag would be his future. With her knowledge of drugs, Ms. Debassige was able to devise a regimen that not only saw her father beat cancer, but freed her father from wearing a colostomy bag for life. “My aunt was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer,” she said. Death was imminent, but she went on to live for three years.
“Doctors are good at diagnosing,” said Ms. Debassige, “but pharmacists know drugs.”
There are health insurance challenges when it comes to getting the custom drug compounds covered, but the extra paperwork can be well worth the effort. “They have made changes in British Columbia that have given control over the health system for Indigenous peoples,” she said. “We are behind here in Ontario, but I am hopeful.”
Ms. Debassige recently made a presentation to the minister of health that may produce a more positive outcome.
Although based in M’Chigeeng First Nation (beside the new grocery store in the M’Chigeeng Business Development Centre), the new pharmacy is open to everyone and Ms. Debassige said that she was looking forward to serving all Island residents.
For more information, visit SGRX.ca or call 705-377-7479. Sweet Grass Pharmacy and Compounding is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 2 pm.