By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
LACOMBE – Pharmacist Jason Johnson admits it sounds “cheesy” when he talks about “wanting to help people and wanting to have a small town business.”
But if there even was a reason to question his sincerity, just look at the address on his business cards for the Bayou Lacombe Pharmacy, located at 27431 Hwy 190 on the Main Street of Lacombe.
Johnson graduated from Pharmacy School in 1999 after finishing his degree at Northeast Louisiana University. As most young grads do, he put in the long hours and the rigorous schedule the national companies require, working for eight years with Rite Aid and getting bounced between pharmacies in Mandeville, LaPlace, Bogalusa, New Orleans and Hammond.
From there he got an up-close look at a small town, independent pharmacy when he was hired at Family Drug Mart in Pearl River, where he worked for six more years.
Armed with 14 years of experience and ready to open his own pharmacy, he followed his heart and his “cheesy” ideals by opening in the small town of Lacombe, La.
“The pharmacist is probably the person most customers see and talk to more than anyone in the health care field,” he said. “It’s truly the place you can help people the most since we can educate them and answer all their questions about their medications.
“That’s really important in this day and age when medicines are changing so much, and new drugs are coming on the market almost monthly,” he said. “I really do like being a part of someone’s life and making their life better when it comes to their health. This is allowing me to do it.”
Johnson said the small town, independent pharmacist really does find the time to talk to their customers, even if it means they aren’t filling hundreds more prescriptions as the national chain stores do.
“I really didn’t get into this profession to get rich,” he said. “I always pictured the small pharmacy like some I saw in New Orleans East where I grew up.”
And one key reason he wants to spend the time to educate his customers on their medications is because of the ever-changing medication scene.
Johnson said there are new drugs coming out almost monthly, “probably something like 20 a year, plus the fact the pharmaceutical companies are combining some older medications to make something new.
“People need to know what they are taking, what the side effects are, how they interact with their other medications and more,” he said. “Pharmacists have to continually educate themselves on those medicines and you don’t always get that at bigger pharmacies because they need to fill so many prescriptions.”
Another reason that Lacombe, proven to be the perfect location for his independent pharmacy is because his wife was born and raised in Lacombe and Johnson was attending Mandeville High when he was 16. With the couple beginning to date while attending Southeastern Louisiana University it was easy for Johnson to see more of the town known as the “heart of St. Tammany Parish.”
“It just made sense to go to Lacombe. These are blue-collar folks who are typical Southeast Louisiana workers. They have their share of high blood pressure and diabetes so we help them review their medications and how to most effectively take them,” he noted. “I knew that if I was going to have a small town pharmacy that Lacombe was the place I wanted to do it.”
Ironically, Johnson made his decision, leased a building on Main Street and was getting ready to open the same time a similar small town pharmacy was getting ready to open less than a mile down the street. But he and the owner have become friends and have seen that the region is big enough for both of them.
“Both of our stores are making money, but part of that for us is because we have a homey feel and are not like a clinic or pharmacy,” he added. “I think that’s another reason people like us.”
Johnson said the atmosphere at the Bayou Lacombe Pharmacy “allows us to typically have more time for each customer, and provide great, personal service. It’s not unusual for me to get on the phone with a doctor to get things done the right way for our patients.”
Johnson has been married for 19 years to Angela Rizk Johnson and the couple has four children. Angela is a teacher in St. Tammany Parish.