Mortar and pestles. Precision weighing scales. Empty capsules and bottles to fill. Sheets of prescription orders. This is not your regular trip to the chain-store pharmacy. Here, prescriptions are painstakingly created for your individual use by Larry Maida, the third-generation pharmacist and proprietor of Maida Pharmacy in East Arlington.
Out in front there are shelves lined with different pill bottles. Towards the back is a glass window that says “Compounding Lab.” Looking through this inner window, you can see a very clean, organized lab with digital equipment and machines, mixing containers and spoons, and precise measuring devices for creating the unique compounds needed to alleviate various ailments. Larry Maida is neatly outfitted in a button down shirt, slacks, and tie with a white lab coat that says “Maida Pharmacy.”
Larry’s grandfather, Carmelo “Charlie” Maida, started the pharmacy in the 1930s. It was the neighborhood drugstore then and everybody went there to get help with their health needs. His grandfather would compound the medications for all his clients. That was the way they did it in the days before the large pharmaceutical companies began mass-producing pills. Each customer had one-on-one service, and their prescriptions were filled very carefully by hand, not by a machine.
Under Larry’s father, Larry Sr., Maida was more than a drugstore. “This was a very social place. It was a different environment. We had a soda fountain here along with the pharmacy...Sodas, sandwiches, root beer floats, ice cream. And think about it – today, you couldn’t have that. It took all the family to run it.” Neighborhood folk would come in to socialize, gossip and exchange news, as well as pickup whatever items they needed for their families. There was even a phone booth for making private calls, when you didn’t want your whole family listening in.
All three Maida men graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy where they studied pharmacy and the art and science of compounding. Currently, Larry’s son – representing the 4th generation of this family -- is enrolled there. To succeed in this profession you have to be meticulous about measurements and the relationships between the ingredients. When filling up these tiny capsules or creating creams or solutions you must be precise. You have to love compounding.
Although times have changed, Maida Pharmacy continues to offer personalized care. Larry has focused Maida’s services entirely on compounding and wellness services: “It is a bold move. What I am doing here is a specialty service, an alternative to dispensing the mass produced commercial products. There’s only a handful of us doing this.” Larry not only deals with pharmaceutical remedies, he has studied and is well-versed in nutraceutical, herbal, and homeopathic treatments and also makes these alternative treatments available to customers.
There is a triad of relationships between the patient, pharmacist, and physician. The physician gives his or her diagnosis and recommended solutions, the pharmacist then comes up with the preparation that best fits that patient. Much of Larry’s time is spent in the lab mixing ingredients, but the rest is spent with customers, asking questions. Does the customer have allergies that rule out certain ingredients? Do they have difficulty swallowing pills – Larry will prepare a liquid alternative, or a lozenge. Are they concerned about the effect of a drug on their liver or kidneys? Then putting the medication in a topical cream or gel may be the way to go.
Business depends on listening attentively to the patient’s needs and pain issues and then assessing how best to come up with the compound that works based on the physician’s diagnosis. “I use the active chemical powders, pure, to make the dosage formula, using just one or combining multiple medications as necessary, and dispensing in a form that works for you. Let’s say you don’t eat meat – I’ll use a vegetable capsule. Lactose intolerant? We’ll remove dairy ingredients common in commercial preparations. Need a custom hormone treatment? I can do that! These problems come up in my line of work every day. Everybody’s happy!”
Maida Pharmacy has patients coming in who are looking for the kind of care he offers – full body health. He doesn’t just focus on one area of pain or problem, but considers how everything is going to interact together in your system and what impact that will have in the long term. Maida is looking at the whole person. Larry explains: “I look at the whole picture, I ask lots of questions; I listen, I care. What brings me the most joy and satisfaction, is being an active participant in my customers’ health. That is what is the most fulfilling.”
It’s gone full circle for this historic drugstore turned specialized compounding pharmacy. Their determined longevity and willingness to keep up with the times has allowed them to be part of the East Arlington neighborhood at 121 Mass Ave for the past century. What Larry is doing is resisting the tide of mass-produced conventional solutions. He has a vision for a healthier future that is rooted in the past: developing one-on-one relationships with customers combined with up-to-date technology and scientific solutions.
By Nilou Moochhala, 2016