Does it bother you to sell syringes over the counter to anyone that walks up and asks for them? It bothers me sometimes.
I don’t even want to think about all of the syringes I’ve sold over the years that have inevitably ended up helping a drug addict achieve their next high. The last thing I want to do as a pharmacist is fuel the drug addiction flame or help someone get high.
Syringe sales are a touchy subject for pharmacy staff members. The question of access to clean needles has been debated over and over again. Should pharmacies indiscriminately sell such products?
Basically, selling or even giving away clean needles to drug addicts is a strategy to try and minimize the spread of infectious disease. The idea is that the person in question is already addicted and will find a way to shoot up regardless of whether they receive clean needles from your pharmacy or not. So why not sell them clean needles to try and prevent disease spread?
Having said that, IV drug use can spread diseases. Contaminated drugs can cause adverse effects and diseases that are at least as bad as the risk of using dirty needles. Then there is the whole issue of overdose. People tend to forget that these drugs can kill.
But getting back to the issue of syringe sales, typically they are considered over the counter products. That means that pharmacists can sell these items without a prescription.
But there is also discretion left to the pharmacist regarding the sale of syringes. Should we deny a customer access to syringes simply because we think they might be using those needles to inject illegal substances?
I can remember instances where I knew with a good degree of certainty that a customer requesting the purchase of syringes over the counter was in fact a drug addict. Diabetics don’t typically ask for a single syringe at a time. They also know how many units they are injecting (or the fact that insulin is measured in units for that matter).
I know of times where the pharmacy I’ve worked sold syringes to a customer only to have them immediately use the store’s bathroom to inject themselves with drugs. Is this good for a business to sell a product that enables illegal drug use?
For me, it is difficult to separate the public health issue of preventing communicable diseases by selling syringes with the issue of drug abuse and enabling addicts. And the fact that addicts are using me to get to their next fix really bothers me.
Some countries experiment with programs where the government actually administers drugs directly to addicts. The idea is that they can control the environment. This means clean needles, pure products, and controlled dosing to minimize the risk of overdose.
But it is a hard sell to get a population to grasp the idea of allowing their government to control the administration of drugs that are supposed to be outlawed. Just like it’s a difficult concept for me to consider OTC syringe sales to be disease prevention measures in the case of drug addicts.
Is this a time for pharmacists and technicians everywhere to separate their personal beliefs from their professional obligations? Or should pharmacists block the sale of syringes to people known to be drug abusers?
I think drug abuse and addiction is consuming the United States along with many other countries around the world. And as someone that works in a community pharmacy, I see the fall out of rampant drug abuse and addiction everyday at work.
So how do we handle those people that are already physically and psychologically addicted to drugs? Helping them prevent the spread of diseases by allowing access to clean syringes is one potential way. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So in the end, drug abuse is something that needs to be addressed in the U.S. and around the world. And access to clean needles is something that can help prevent the spread of diseases among IV drug users. But it also provides an outlet for the continued use of drugs by addicts.
So the next time someone who may be a drug abuser comes up to my pharmacy counter and asks to buy syringes, I will probably sell them. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It will always bother me knowing where those needles will go and what they will be used for after they leave my pharmacy.
It’s a frustrating dilemma that we find ourselves behind the counter at the pharmacy. One of many these days it seems. To sell syringes or not to sell. In modern community pharmacy, that is the question.
The Redheaded Pharmacist