Speed Reads


John Oliver and a delightful melange of celebrities explain the benefits and pitfalls of compounding pharmacies

"When you picture a pharmacy in your mind, you probably imagine a place that your doctor calls in a prescription and someone counts out pills that were manufactured somewhere else, but that is actually a fairly new phenomenon," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "A lot of pharmacies used to make medications on-site," and "there are still places that still make their drugs from scratch." America's roughly 7,500 compounding pharmacies "exist for a very good reason," he explained: To make "bespoke medications" for people (and animals) with special needs.

"But as you've probably guessed by the very fact we're talking about this story in the first place, there are some huge problems" with compounding pharmacies, Oliver said. "As you will see, oversight is so lax that compounding pharmacies have become the Wild West of the drug industry, resulting in fraud and, in the worst cases, many, many people dying. And you may not even know that you're taking a compounded drug."

Oliver started with fraud, then moved on to deaths, and some of the stories are pretty harrowing, including a still-operational compounding pharmacy in Texas that made its eye injection formula with formaldehyde and acetone, blinding about 70 people. "It's frankly not unreasonable to want a world where you can feel confident that something that's about to be injected into your eyeball is at least as safe as lettuce," he said. There is NSFW language throughout, but the delightfully eccentric ending, featuring a bunch of random celebrities mentioned earlier in the segment, is definitely something you shouldn't watch at work without headphones on. Peter Weber