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Substance misusers are patients, not criminals

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Tom Byrne
Tom Byrne


I HAD a very interesting conversation on Saturday morning.

It was BPSA election day, and I was all suited and booted and walking to the venue in the university building. My mind was focused entirely on preparing for the speeches I would be making over the course of the day. A member of the public spotted us all in our suits and asked what we were doing.

Being quite anxious about the day ahead, I was keen to wave her off so I could get back to thinking about my own agenda. I explained we were pharmacy students, running for election to the Executive of the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, which she was very interested to hear.

She told me about her own experiences with pharmacists, and it transpired that I was speaking to a former user of the methadone dispensing service. I soon forgot about my own agenda and listened with intent as she shared her views as somebody on the receiving end of a pharmacist’s care.

A pharmacist should provide medicines, advice and services to their patients without prejudice or  judgement. The road to recovery from addiction is made far easier with our support, and in my fleeting experience there is more we can do to help.

Hers was a success story, as she has now gone several years without using drugs and no longer requires the methadone service. This was despite a perceived lack of support from her pharmacist. She was aware of many people in her community who continue to use opiates and the new drug of abuse, pregabalin. With efforts made to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, these people might feel ready to reach out for our help.

I put forward a motion regarding substance misusers at the 2015 BPSA Annual Conference, inspired by a talk given by Kevin Dooley (his story can be read here) and I’m proud to say it’s now BPSA policy that substance misusers should be treated as patients rather than criminals.

The conversation I had on Saturday morning strengthened my conviction that these patients should be treated with compassion and respect. People don’t choose to become addicted, but pharmacists can play a part in reshaping their lives and recovering. I’m not a practising pharmacist yet, but I hope those of you reading this who come across methadone users on a regular basis will consider how you treat them and what positive impact you can make. Sometimes it’s simply a case of putting your own concerns to one side and listening.

Tom Byrne is a pharmacy student at the University of Sunderland

Follow Tom @PharmTB

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