Colchester pharmacy shut down over safety violations

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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) A pharmacy in Colchester abruptly closed its doors Thursday after allegations that the medications they were dispensing may not have been safe.

Pat Cook has two cats he owns with an employee at WCAX. They usually get the cats' medicine from Penro Compounding Pharmacy in Colchester. That is until a couple of days ago when he got a call from the pharmacy.

"A little surprised because I just talked to them the other day and we actually had a prescription that we were waiting for him," Cook said.

The doors to the pharmacy are now locked and there is a closed sign on the door. Inside, two employees appeared to hide when WCAX News cameras showed up Thursday.

The Vermont Secretary of State's office says the pharmacy's license was suspended earlier this month.

"It is a very serious thing," said Vt. Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters.

Paperwork from the state shows that during a routine inspection Oct. 18, they noticed that owner Neal Pease was assigning "beyond use" dates of up to six months for hundreds of compounds. There are guidelines to tell compounding pharmacists when the medications they're making need to be tossed. And the state says some of the ones Penro was handing out should have been thrown out after 24 hours, not six months. Patients who used them could be at risk for infections, even death. So they took steps to immediately prevent them from dispensing more medications.

"We only do it in the most serious of cases, and that's because the statute says there has to be an imminent threat to the public health, safety, and welfare," Winters said. "So this would be an unusual circumstance."

Penro deals with medications for both people and pets. Many local veterinarians refer customers there to get medications. Burlington Emergency Veterinary Services officials said they were shocked to hear Penro was closed. They say those pharmacies are important to get pets the right level of medication.

"We can formulate drugs that we can get for small pets like small cats and small dogs. We can also have things flavored, so for pets who are really hard to give medications or pill forms to, a flavored liquid would be easier for our clients to use," said Joanna Schmit, a veterinary oncologist.

Schmit says compounding pharmacies are expanding online. And online is where many customers like Cook may now have to go-- and pay shipping costs. He's not sure yet what he will do.

"We're pretty disappointed about the whole thing really," Cook said.

WCAX attempted to contact Neal Pease for a comment but he did not respond before this story was published. It's unclear if Penro will reopen. As for patients who were given medications that should not be used, the state says Penro is contacting its customers.