Ira Katz Wins Independent Pharmacist of Year Award
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Ira Katz Wins Independent Pharmacist of Year Award

The owner of the Little Five Points Pharmacy was honored for his “leadership, dedication and commitment” to serving his community.

Pharmacist Ira Katz holds a box of Narcan (naloxone), a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdose.
Pharmacist Ira Katz holds a box of Narcan (naloxone), a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdose.

For Ira Katz, owner of the Little Five Points Pharmacy, it’s all about community. That’s why being the 2021 recipient of the National Community Pharmacists Association’s (NCPA) highest honor, the Willard B. Simmons Independent Pharmacist of the Year Award, means so much to him.

“I was really shocked by it. It’s the highest, most coveted award from colleagues at a national level,” said Katz. “I was really bowled over.”

Raised in the Bronx, Katz, 67, attended Emory University as an undergraduate, returned to New York to earn his pharmacy degree at St. John’s University, and came back to Atlanta with his wife, Dr. Mindy Wertheimer, to begin his career. He first worked with the Reed drugstore chain at several stores; but all along, Katz said, he knew he wanted to open his own pharmacy.

He and Mindy would drive around various suburban areas in search of a location. Nothing seemed right until about two years later, in 1980, when he connected with Kelly Jordan, who, along with his business partner, was redeveloping a retail center on Moreland Avenue as part of the Little Five Points revitalization plan. According to Jordan, local pharmacies were part of the neighborhood’s history since the 1920s. “We knew if the neighborhood was to be revitalized, we needed an independent pharmacy,” Jordan said. He and Katz met in the back room of the old L5P Pub and discussed plans.

Little Five Points is a small business district known for its bars and pubs, small theaters, music venues, tattoo parlors, and other offbeat establishments. It’s surrounded by historic intown neighborhoods like Candler Park, Inman Park, Druid Hills and Edgewood, whose demographics range from students to families.

Katz says his upbringing in the Bronx gave him a real appreciation of the value of community and that he immediately saw a fit with the neighborhood. “When I got home, I said to my wife, ‘I think I found what I want to do.’ I knew that this is a community and a neighborhood unlike anything else I was looking at.”

Now 42 years later, the busy pharmacy employs a staff of eight, including some who have been with Katz for more than 20 years.

Katz made headlines in June 2018 after he saved a young man from a drug overdose.

“I love the diversity and have pretty much seen everything,” said Katz, who made headlines in June 2018 after he used Narcan to revive a man overdosing in the parking lot. (Narcan is a popular brand of naloxone, a medicine used to quickly reverse opioid overdose.) Since then, Katz has rescued others and become a champion of combatting opioid abuse. He works with Atlanta Harm Reduction to train people to administer Narcan and gives it out free of charge in hopes of saving more lives.

As a community pharmacist, Katz says interacting directly with his clients and doing advocacy is gratifying. In keeping with the changes of his profession, Katz administers immunizations, works with patients on medication therapy management, and attends classes so he can counsel his clients on health and wellness issues such as diet and nutrition.

“We really love and appreciate him,” said Kelly Stocks, president of the Little Five Points Business Association. “Ira is a great asset to our neighborhood. The pharmacy is one of those legacy businesses we have in Little Five Points that we cherish that other neighborhoods don’t have.”

As an essential business, Katz managed to keep the pharmacy open during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 14 months, staff would allow one person in the store at a time or bring medicine and orders to customers outside. Now the pharmacy is fully open again, although masks are mandatory in the store.

Among his many honors and awards, Katz was recognized with a resolution at the Georgia Senate after he saved the young man’s life in the parking lot. In a show of affection from the community in 2013, Katz was asked to be the Grand Marshal of the Inman Park Festival parade, that year riding in front of his friend, Congressman John Lewis.

Katz received the coveted Independent Pharmacist of the Year award in Charlotte last month.

Katz and Wertheimer live in East Cobb, where they raised their two now-adult daughters, both of whom attended Jewish day schools. Wertheimer is a past president of JF&CS and recently retired after 30 distinguished years on the faculty of the Georgia State University School of Social Work. For his part, Katz, who is also an adjunct professor at Mercer University, often speaks to local media, and serves in leadership roles in professional organizations, says he has no plans to retire.

“I love my profession,” says Katz, an active member of Congregation B’nai Torah. “Not too many people can say that. Every day I make a difference. That’s what sets independent pharmacies apart.”

Katz received the award at the NCPA’s annual convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Oct. 11. “Ira’s leadership, dedication and commitment to community make him a deserving recipient of this year’s Willard B. Simmons Independent Pharmacist of the Year Award,” said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey.

“Ira’s service to his community has saved lives and is unwavering. He is a prime example of the importance of community pharmacies to people in cities and towns across America.”

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