NAUGATUCK — A community pharmacy that has operated in the borough for 40 years has filled its last prescription.
Nelson’s Pharmacy at 153 Maple St. has been sold to Rite Aid. Nelson’s customers can now pick up their medication from Rite Aid at 56 Rubber Ave.
“I’ve seen three generations come through here,” Nelson’s owner Gerry Russo said.
The pharmacy filled an average of 150 prescriptions per day, and sold hundreds of lottery tickets and other items at its convenience store. The store will remain and will be operated by longtime Nelson’s Pharmacy worker Greg Hanson.
Hanson is looking to possibly bring a coffee shop, deli or another type of store, Russo said. He will also continue to fit people for specialized shoes, such as those for people with diabetes, a skill that Hanson specializes in, Russo said.
There currently is only one remaining independent community pharmacy in Naugatuck — Ford Pharmacy & Medical Supply on Church Street. By comparison, there are five corporate pharmacies in Naugatuck: CVS, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, Walmart and Big Y.
Staying in business as an independent community pharmacist has not been easy in United States over the past 30 to 40 years.
In 1980, there were about 40,000 independent community pharmacies in the United States; now there are about 23,000, said John Norton, director of public relations for the National Community Pharmacists Association. Independent pharmacies hold about a 30 percent market share of overall drugstore market, according to market analysts.
“During the 1980s, the big chain stores — CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, etc. — were growing at a rapid pace,” he said. “That lasted for the ensuing 20 years but has started to stabilize a bit.”
Now, pharmacists face a new challenge in mail-order prescriptions. Many employers are forcing their employees, or strongly encouraging them, to order their prescriptions through the mail.
Community pharmacists argue that the patient should have the choice of pharmacy, Norton said.
The good news for independent pharmacists in Connecticut is that their numbers have remained steady in the past five years, even though there has been an increase in chain pharmacies. In 2009, there were 295 chain pharmacies and 156 independent pharmacies in Connecticut. Now, there are 317 chain stores and 155 that are independently owned, Norton said.
“Many people become comfortable with their pharmacist: they know you, they know your health challenges. And with something as personal as health care, they don’t want to give that up,” he said.
Being personable and patient-oriented is how Russo said he has been able to stay in business so long.
However, declining reimbursement rates, mail-order use being forced on patients and uncertainty surrounding health care regulation are some of the issues Russo, as well as many other independent pharmacists, have cited as obstacles.
A few months ago, Nelson’s Pharmacy was hit with an additional obstacle when it agreed to pay a $40,000 penalty to settle allegations that it violated provisions of the Controlled Substances Act. Federal investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration said the pharmacy failed to ensure that prescriptions it filled contained an authorized practitioner’s DEA number, and that it failed to account for accurate inventories of Oxycodone and Endocet painkillers, according to U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly.
Despite that setback, Russo said the overwhelming majority of his time in business was wonderful.
“The customers have always been loyal to me through all the years, and I thank them for that,” he said. “I can’t say that I ever had a bad year in business here.”