Addicts I Have Known (Part 1)

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As heroin took off here, we started to get many young people asking for syringes and needles. Either coincidently or in response to increased demand, disposable syringes with needles became available. At first, they were marketed for the ever-increasing diabetic population, but our street druggies soon realised they were cheap, safe and effective in minimising AIDS and hepatitis.

I decided very early on to supply them in lots of five, also supplying antiseptic wipes and water for injection amps if asked. My idea was to give the young purchasers some structure to their lives. This seemed to work as many became regulars. I had no control over what they were purchasing on the street, but at least they could obtain cheap and clean equipment at regular intervals from a non-judgmental source. The official Pharmacy Board policy at the time was to condemn all illicit drug use and people like me who they considered were encouraging addiction. I never felt this was the case, and still don’t, so my perfectly legal actions (though probably un-ethical to some minds) continued right up to the time I retired.

We eventually became quite busy supplying our pet addicts, and we were also one of the first pharmacies to become involved in Methadone programs. Methadone is a synthetic opiate which blocks the desire for heroin, but is more damaging than pure heroin, just as addictive and causes serious liver and kidney problems. Again, supplying cheap methadone at regular times (sometimes free) enabled some of the addicts to develop  structure and routine in their lives, stay heroin-free and ease financial and health worries.

Our first two regular methadone users were quite good for a while, until the female user became erratic and revisited heroin. We also had a break-in with the stored methadone doses being stolen. I knew she had done it but said nothing (we had many break-ins over the years, all drug-related). One day, she came in shaking, pale and frantic, and asked for some emergency morphine. I slipped her a couple of tablets (which I knew I could account for by using some creative book-work). She later came back for more, but this time I said “No”.  This spurred her to flash a breast or two with the promise of more to come. I had heard stories about pharmacists being lured, tempted and entangled in sexual offers, with consequent blackmail, so her kind offer was declined.

Another of our female clients became a regular for a while. She was quiet, polite, charming and smart and we got on well. One day, she came in after quite a long break, and bought a syringe. She told me she had been off the stuff for a long time, but it was her birthday and she deserved a treat. A few hours later, two policemen arrived, carrying one of our paper bags. She had collapsed and died in the toilets over the road after a lethal and accidental overdose. The police stormed in, waving the bag and thinking they had cornered “Mr.Big”. I simply told them what I knew (and that I had charged her an extortionate 40 cents for the syringe). They glared at me with one of the plods accusing me of complicity, while I wrote out a report and signed it. I suppose I could have been in trouble over “duty of care” concerns here, and felt dreadful that this lovely young girl had died, but I had supplied clean equipment- someone else had supplied the lethal dose.

One of our regulars was a kid with green hair who would skateboard down the middle of the busy street outside, always naked from the waist up no matter what the weather. He would zoom into the shop, buy his syringes and then skate off again. Another was a bloke who raced greyhounds and doped them up nearly as much as he doped himself.  He staggered in one morning dressed in his pyjamas  and whispered, “Can you help me?” He dropped his pants and I saw the pyjama cord wrapped tightly around his genitals, which had gone purple to match the color of his face. The face whitened when I brandished some tweezers and scissors, so I sighed heavily, gritted my teeth and un-knotted the cord by hand. Like Androcles when he removed a thorn from a lion’s paw, I was his friend forever. Another young bloke bolted into the shop one morning, completely naked, dashed out the back and hid under a bench. He was closely followed by two paramedics who told me they had found him unconscious in the bath and slapped him around a bit to revive him.

Brendan and Neil were cousins, and came in often for their Rohypnol. They were always laughing and happy (and high), but used to disappear for months at a time. I finally asked them about their absences and they told me they had regular “holidays” in prison. They did this deliberately, getting picked up for minor possession and dealing offences. While in prison, they would eat well, be out of the cold, still get their drugs (from the warders) and Brendan, who was built like a brick shit-house, would make sure no harm came to his smaller and gentler cousin.

Glen was what some people would call a typical druggie- skinny, toothless, shifty and a smart-arse. I, of course, liked him—he co-owned a racehorse and told me when it was going to win or lose. He sometimes worked as a brickie, telling me that his bosses were all money-grubbing bastards. One night, he appeared for his methadone dose and I was surprised to see him walk out towards a Mercedes parked outside. Since he usually drove clapped out Commodores (and was always being pulled up by the police), I asked him what was going on. He grinned and said—“That lousy boss has refused to pay me and he hasn’t had time to check his garage”.

Related Articles:
More Addicts I Have Known
The War on Drugs

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About the author

Robert Gosstray is a retired pharmacist and the resident health writer for Midlifexpress. He is the author of The Pharmacist’s Secrets: Drugs, lies and money.



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