Serving Suspected Addicts


A defense of selling needles to customers who will most likely use them to inject heroin.

America, along with the rest of the world, likes its recreational drugs. From the relatively benign cannabis to the soul-destroying, usually lethal in the long run, heroin, and everything in between, society is doing these drugs with gusto.

Functional addicts are completely ignored. If they are bringing home a paycheck, and not destroying their families, everything is just fine. It's the stealing and overdosing that draws attention.

In the community pharmacy branch of the profession, we deal with this on a daily basis in 1 form or another. Opiate and benzo abuse is 1 form of it, and we will get to that soon enough. In this column, I want to address the ethical dilemma of selling heroin needles.

You can call them insulin syringes being sold 10 at a time all you want, but let's face it, the buyers with the itchy, sleeve-covered-on-a-90-degree day arms, horrible skin, and red eyes, are using them to inject heroin. More often than not, they'll shoot up right in the parking lot. Community pharmacies have become the new shooting galleries.

Are pharmacists promoting drug abuse? Some would say yes. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I feel we are doing addicts a service by providing them with clean, disease-free needles. While I would rather talk to addicts about recovery options, I know the conversation is not going to go that way. Most of my staff is uncomfortable with the idea, so I am usually the go-to guy when someone asks for needles. I treat that customer with the same respect I give my most cherished patients. They are human beings after all.

I always end the transaction the same way, by saying: "Good luck." I'm not being a wisenheimer when I say it either. I truly want the addict to survive the shoot up. I have a soft spot for addicts because I have been in their shoes.

While never delving into heroin, I did like my hydrocodone and alcohol. I never stole a tablet, but I did have an easy doc. When I wrenched my back really badly, I was taken to the hospital and given a shot of meperidine and became an instant fan; Blondie's Greatest Hits never sounded so good. I haven't had it since, but I was always hoping I’d throw out my back again. These days I just go to a chiropractor. It's healthier in the long run.

I do not lose a wink of sleep by selling needles to addicts, because I'm not selling them the drug. I know it's a “selling them the gun not the bullets” argument, but I am okay with that. Knowing that I am keeping a fellow human being as safe as they can be in that situation keeps me at peace with providing the needles.

If you are uncomfortable selling the needles, by all means DO NOT! That's what the conscience clause is for. Never do anything in a pharmacy that goes against your moral judgment. Peace.

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