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Portland pharmacy Pharmaca suddenly closes, leaving customers scrambling

Once widespread, independent pharmacies are disappearing from many areas of the country, leaving many Americans without easy access to pharmacies.
A mix of colorful pills spread out on a counter.
February 16, 2023

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

A small pharmacy chain specializing in natural health and holistic medicine is closing its store in Northwest Portland after it was acquired out of bankruptcy by Walgreens last week.

Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, which also had a Cedar Hills outpost until October, ended its pharmacy services at the Uptown Shopping Center store on Northwest 23rd Avenue last week. The store’s retail component is slated to close on Feb. 25.

The sudden closure came after Walgreens bought out Pharmaca’s parent company, Medly Health — a Brooklyn-based digital pharmacy business — for $19.4 million as part of a deal approved last week by a federal judge in Delaware. Mired in debt amounting to about $110 million, Medly had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December.

According to documents filed in bankruptcy court last week, drug store giant Walgreens will acquire Medly’s prescription files, pharmacy inventory and intellectual property, including its trademarks and logos.

Gordon Noel, professor emeritus at Oregon Health & Science University, said he saw a steady flow of customers pulling up to the Pharmaca in the Uptown Shopping Center to pick up prescriptions last Thursday. But by day’s end, he said, the store had shut down its pharmacy.

“On Wednesday, Pharmaca was doing business as usual,” he said. “Then on Thursday evening, they suddenly went out of business.”

A sign posted on Pharmaca’s door says that customer’s prescriptions have been transferred to the nearby Walgreens at Northwest 21st Avenue and Burnside Street.

Customers say they weren’t notified about the pharmacy’s planned closure and only found out when they drove up to the store.

Mel Lee, 83, a long-time customer of the Portland Pharmaca, said she was not notified by the store or Walgreens when she happened to check on a prescription after a difficult dental surgery procedure on Monday.

“I needed to get some pain medications and antibiotics that my dentist had sent over to Pharmaca, where I’ve been going for years,” she said. “When I walked up to the doors after, there were notes on the door saying that they were no longer operating their pharmacy.”

Lee said she drove to the nearby Walgreens location only to find out that her prescription had not been transferred and that the pharmacist and technicians were unaware of Pharmaca’s closure and buyout by Walgreens.

Lee said she was able to resolve the issue by calling her dentist and asking to have the prescriptions sent to Walgreens. However, she said she worries about her other prescription medications that she’d regularly pick up at Pharmaca.

“It’s just a tremendous loss to Northwest Portland, especially to those like me that have been going there for years,” she said.

Oregon law requires pharmacies permanently closing to notify its patients at least 15 days prior to its closure. Pharmaca customers interviewed said they didn’t receive notice.

Calls to Medly and Pharmaca were not returned, with some numbers full and not accepting voicemails. Walgreens has not responded to emailed questions.

Pharmaca was founded in 2000 as a pharmacy that also offered alternative medicine and natural beauty products. In 2021, Medley bought the Boulder, Colorado-based company, which had 22 locations in Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Illinois and New Mexico.

Independent pharmacies, once widespread in large cities and rural hamlets alike, are disappearing from many areas of the country, leaving many Americans without easy access to pharmacies.

Many are struggling due to the consolidation among drugstore chains, insurance companies and pharmaceutical benefit managers, which gives those companies market power that small drugstores can’t match.

In Oregon, more than 40 pharmacies have closed since 2017, leaving some communities fewer options and others none at all. In 2021, Bi-Mart sold its pharmacies in Oregon to Walgreens.