Dispensing Clean Needles to Injectable Drug Users

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
The great debate of whether pharmacies should dispense clean needles and syringes to injectable drug users has resurfaced. Although some critics view it as pure evil, I find it purely necessary. When patients come in for the needles, I gladly sell them.
I’ve been accused of feeding addiction and profiting from drug abuse, but I see this as keeping fellow humans out of a more dangerous situation than they’re already in. Although we make a few bucks a 10-syringe bag at a time, I consider it money well spent.
One time, a kid came into my pharmacy looking for syringes and told me that if he were in New York, we’d have to give him the needles for free. I welcomed him to Pennsylvania and asked for $4.49. He paid me with a fifty—when you buy drugs, every penny counts. After a slight admonition (for his trying to rip me off, not for his drug use), I sold him what he needed. He came back and paid every time.
I liked my opioids far more than I should have in my life. I’d go as far as calling myself a drug addict at the time. This has made me more sensitive to the least of my patients. I don’t offer advice on stopping, and I most certainly don’t show any scorn toward them. If they ask me about cleaning up, I tell them my story. I’ve also given out my cell phone number and permission to me if they ever feel like using again, and I’ll do my best to talk them out of it.
If they present a prescription for an opioid maintenance medication, I feel a sense of relief for them, congratulate them for their decision, and, if they’re up for it, I’ve always got a hug at the ready. Although I’d like to see them stop the opioids after a year, I’ve learned enough that I’d rather see them on opioids for life than to ever see them use heroin again.
I’ve heard of individuals who think methamphetamine and heroin should be poisoned to kill all addicts. I find this deplorable, and I think the individuals who would entertain such a notion are horrible beyond comprehension. Hard-core drug users who are, unfortunately, fatally overdosing on a daily basis, don’t need our help dying. These patients need our compassion, not our condescension.
The opioid epidemic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and we should make an addict’s life as safe as it could possibly be. Perhaps if we show them compassion, instead of treating them like rubbish, we could help them get clean. Should that not be the way they want to go, we should treat them like the fellow humans they are.
Jay Sochoka, RPh, cares for those uncared for