Pharmacist Rick Chester stands next to homeopathic remedies he offers along with traditional Western medicines at Talent’s Medicap Pharmacy. Chester has also practiced as a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, and uses knowledge from the three disciplines when helping pharmacy clients choose a particular treatment. - Photo by Denise Baratta

East meets West in Talent pharmacy

If you go into Medicap Pharmacy in Talent looking for, say, allergy medicine, pharmacist Rick Chester will sell you that box of Claritin. And he will also give you a complete plan for squelching your allergies, if you are open to hearing it.

"Ultimately you want to reduce your stress level and heal the intestinal tract by eliminating food allergies — so that when those airborne pollens come along, they don't tip the bucket and throw your body out of balance," says Chester, whose holistic approach to fighting illness was forged at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland.

He earned his naturopathic physician's license at NCNM in 1992, 12 years after he had left Oregon State University with a degree in pharmacology. He has worked at Medicap since 2006, striving in those two years to "convert the place according to my personality."

Chester's dual background — equal parts conventional and alternative medicine — is "very unusual," he says. "People on both sides can be very dogmatic."

As he got more into naturopathic medicine, he began to see a continuum, rather than a divide, between the two approaches, he says.

He sees prescriptions as "a way to treat acutely, to get people under control, until you get to the cause." For most people, real improvement comes about "by changing their diet and working on their energy level with acupuncture or homeopathy," he says.

Naturopathic physicians, according to Chester, use a full spectrum of natural therapies, from clinical nutrition to writing prescriptions, in treating conditions. His naturopathic training included body work, such as massage therapy and chiropractic adjustment, along with homeopathy. He is also a licensed acupuncturist. State law allows naturopathic physicians to prescribe anything that comes from a natural source. They are not allowed to prescribe synthetic drugs.

But as a pharmacist, Chester dispenses quantities of Prozac, beta blockers, statins and the like every day — even though he might be thinking that a customer would be better off approaching his or her condition differently.

"I respect the boundaries" he insists. "A physician or practitioner has prescribed something for this individual, and I play the role of the pharmacist. I don't question what's in the mind of the practitioner."

But if a customer comes looking for answers, Chester's naturopathic training clicks into action.

"If someone asks me, 'Do you think I should take glucosamine for my osteo-arthritis?' sure, I'm going to tell them to. Because the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that people take for that, from what I understand, can damage the cartilage, and obviously rip up the stomach. So there are better ways to approach the problem."

Chester stocks a selection of naturopathic products at Medicap — homeopathic drops and pills, Chinese herbs and medicinal teas — so that "people coming in off the street with an acute problem" can find a remedy. He doesn't have the shelf space to go into more depth than that, he says. Health-food stores and even some supermarkets in the area boast larger selections, he admits. But can they offer his expertise?

"I've listened to people in health-food stores diagnose and treat disease," says Chester. "They are well-meaning people, but their level of knowledge is probably questionable."

How much glucosamine should you take in order to get a therapeutic response?

Chester doubts that the person stocking the shelves in a supermarket would know.

"So you might take one 500-milligram tablet a day. And when you don't get a response, you assume it doesn't work," he says. "You have to know that the minimum level is 1,500 milligrams."

He adds, "That's why you go to school — so that you know how much to prescribe for a particular condition."

More and more conventional practitioners are "dabbling in" alternative approaches to health, but few go to the trouble of becoming licensed, says Chester.

"It's four more years of school and a lot of expense," he explains.

Being a pharmacist pays well, he reveals. So making himself very available to customers with his free naturopathic advice is his way of giving back.

"I'm trying to create a place where people can come in and pick my brain," he says, "which is what people have done with pharmacists for years."

Except that this pharmacist has a very inclusive brain to pick.

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at

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