Relieving pain through individualized care

California pharmacist Stuart compounds interventional pain products

When William Stuart, BSPharm, started out as an independent pharmacist in Long Beach, CA, in 1985, he was struck by how many patients complained they weren’t getting any relief from their prescription pain medications.

“These people were just suffering,” Stuart said.

Many of his patients had chronic, sometimes debilitating, back pain, some even after multiple surgeries. Chronic back pain, which is all too common, can prevent a person from working and living a normal life, while the subsequent depression, anxiety and stress can worsen pain. “Everyone knows someone who’s had multiple back surgeries but is still in pain,” he said.

Stuart wondered if there was another way.

A decade later, he found it.

“I was introduced to interventional pain medication back in 1996, and it was a calling for me,” Stuart said.

Interventional pain medication is injected into the spine, by a physician, through an implanted infusion device, directly at the site of the pain, bypassing all the other organs through which traditional pain medicines go. Besides helping patients who can’t find relief any other way, injectable pain medications don’t bring the stomach upset, dizziness, and constipation that oral drugs can. These drugs must be prepared by a compounding pharmacist.

“It’s truly an answer for people who’ve been suffering for a long time,” Stuart said.

Stuart now owns and operates Hartley Medical Center Pharmacy, Inc. It is a compounding pharmacy that provides interventional pain medications for patients who don’t respond to commercially available drugs. The pharmacy is accredited by the Pharmacy Compounding Accreditation Board.

“There’s a whole class of people who don’t get relief from Vicodin or morphine tablets,” Stuart said. “Commercially available products do not accomplish adequate pain relief for them.”

More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to a 2011 report released by the Institute of Medicine. Pain is vastly undertreated, the report stated. This is due in part to the stigma associated with taking pain medication long term and also to others’ perception that a person’s pain is “all in their head.”

Stuart, who also compounds pain medications for people dying of cancer, understands that chronic pain is not all in our head.

“In my world, I understand pain,” Stuart said. “My patients are at the end of their rope suffering from chronic pain. I enjoy being able to treat them.”