Jewish pharmacist runs ‘green’ pharmacy in Pittsburgh

Jewish pharmacist runs ‘green’ pharmacy in Pittsburgh

Your local Rite Aid, this ain’t.
At the Murray Avenue Apothecary they make their own compounds; they sell whole food-based vitamins and other organic supplements; they built the Greenfield-based store from environmentally friendly materials; and they put the emphasis on wellness rather than sickness.
In other words, this is one of Pittsburgh’s green pharmacies — at least, according to Pittsburgh Magazine’s “Green Issue” of April 2009.
“I would never be so self-serving as to say I’m the perfect green pharmacist, because I’m not,” said Susan Merenstein, the proprietor and a working pharmacist for 30 years.
But she is always moving in that direction.
For instance, she uses BPA-free plastic vials and recycled bags for dispensation of her compounds. She is promoting her pharmacy as a drop-off location for other people’s medicine bottles. She said she removes the prescription labels before recycling the containers.
She controls energy use at the pharmacy, and she stresses “green” attitudes to her employees. “They know how important it is to me,” she said. “It’s an attitude thing.”
Merenstein is a clinical compounding pharmacist. As such, she can do consultations with her customers, she can help patients who seek alternative therapies and she gets a growing number of referrals from area physicians.
Her business doesn’t resemble a modern drug store. You can’t go there to pick up a Hershey bar and pack of cigarettes while you wait for your prescription to be filled. This place looks more like a doctor’s waiting room, with a stress-eroding water sculpture in the corner.
“We’re a destination for wellness,” she said.
One wall is filled with supplements (she also calls them “medical nutrition”) for ailments such as bone health, thyroid, irritability, adrenal fatigue, brain/mood and even bowel digestion. Products like Advil, Vicks and Preparation H are nowhere to be found.
And the remedies she makes, or compounds, she says are good for autism, hormone balance pain management, skin care and eczema to name a few. She even makes up veterinary medications for pets.
(While you can’t get that Hershey bar at the Murray Avenue Apothecary, there are some impulse buys available — mineral water for instance.)
“People seek out my pharmacy for natural therapies,” she said. “Now, what are natural therapies? Green? Depending on who you are, what is the meaning of green?”
She defines a green a pharmacy as an establishment that uses environmental practices, maintains an “Earth-saving attitude” and encourages natural treatments.
And that, she said, reflects Jewish values. “I can sleep at night knowing I treated people well.”
Merenstein said she is always looking for ways to make her pharmacy greener. In a way, though, what she and some 3,000 other compound pharmacists around the country do is bring their profession full circle with its roots.
After all, pre-produced medicine, count out or measure out, has only been around for about 70 years, she said. “Compounding has been there since the beginning of pharmacy.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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