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Natural Awakenings Boston

Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center – Customizing Prescriptions, Empowering People

In the mid-1800s, Johnson Drug opened its doors to residents in and around Waltham. In 2008 the business became Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center, under the leadership of co-owners Steve and Diane Bernardi. Today, this compounding pharmacy and wellness center offers customized prescriptions, nutritional supplements, medical supplies and naturopathic consultations to those who seek improved health and well-being. Natural Awakenings visited with pharmacist Steve Bernardi to learn more about the work that he loves.

What is unique about a compounding-only pharmacy?

Everything is custom-made for the patient, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. Drug companies cannot possibly make medications in the correct size and strength for each individual, so that’s where compounding pharmacies come in. Drug doses are typically based on body weight, for example, but people weigh all different amounts. A doctor may know that a certain drug is not available in the desired strength for a particular patient, so he or she writes a prescription for us to compound.

We put a lot of medications into trans-dermal forms for rubbing into the skin, which means you get the benefits of the drug without the side effects, in many instances. So if you have bad arthritis, you can use one of our pain creams right on your knees, whereas if you took that same drug by mouth you could have liver and kidney problems. It’s also more effective because you’re applying medication directly to the problem areas.

What are some of the most common prescriptions you’re seeing these days?

Hormone-replacement therapy for women and men is the number one thing that we see, followed by adult drugs compounded for children. I recently filled prescriptions for a one-month-old child with a heart condition, for example. Most cardiac drugs are not made in strengths suitable for children, so we take the drug and make it into a liquid form at a safe strength and dosage for the child. We also have long-acting forms of thyroid medications that are not commercially available, mixing the medication with ingredients that make it dissolve more slowly in the body for a prolonged effect.

Additionally, we offer dye-free medications for people who are chemically sensitive and preservative-free eye drops for those who cannot use the conventional products. There are also some vaginal issues out there today, like vulvodynia (pain in the vulva), that aren’t always best addressed with conventional medications. We make formulas in special petroleum-free and paraben-free bases, so they don’t irritate. Customers who are chemically sensitive or allergic to certain ingredients in medications report great improvement in their conditions and better quality of life with our formulas.

What else do you offer at Johnson Compounding and Wellness?

Our naturopathic physician, Dr. Gary Kracoff, does consultations with people on the spot or by appointment, and a lot of people have had very good results with him. He’s an expert in homeopathy, and we feel that a person’s homeopathic constitutional is often the missing link in treatments, especially when it’s out of balance. During a consultation, Dr. Kracoff will do a health assessment to determine a person’s homeopathic constitutional and discuss supplements, dietary suggestions and exercise methods with the patient.

How did you become a compounding pharmacist?

I wanted to be a teacher in high school, but there didn’t seem to be many teaching jobs at the time. I was also working in a pharmacy where a co-worker told me that his relative went to pharmacy school and was teaching in a college. I fell in love with pharmacy—and my future wife, Diane—while getting my graduate education and now I teach people every day about how to properly use medications and take better care of their health.

What are your top five recommendations?

We always tell people that if you can only afford to take one supplement, it should be omega-3 fish oil. Additionally, we recommend probiotics, liver-detoxification formulas, antioxidants and a good multivitamin. Most of us also need a diet with more protein and much less sugar, refined carbohydrates and bad fats. And digestive enzymes are a good idea as we get older, too.

Steve Bernardi is co-owner and Vice President of Pharmacy at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center, located at 577 Main St. in Waltham. For more information, call 781-893-3870 or visit