Methadone millionaires tag is unfair

The report (11 September) on the sentencing of the couple who held customers and staff hostage at the Royal Mile Pharmacy earlier this year highlights the dangers that community pharmacists and their staff are faced with.

Scotland’s community pharmacists play an important role in the health of the nation and their contribution to the NHS is often underestimated.

In another recent report on the strategy for drug misusers in Scotland, the old headline of “methadone millionaires” favoured by many newspapers was rolled out in response to the perfectly justified remuneration that pharmacists receive for the service.

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The Royal Mile Pharmacy incident demonstrates the dangers that can be faced by pharmacy staff when they provide services to drug misusers.

While the majority of the patients use the service responsibly and respectfully, there is the minority who can be disruptive and threatening to staff and customers. Because pharmacists work in the front line and they are the final suppliers of medicines, they face the greatest danger if someone is determined to obtain these medicines illegally.

I cannot think that there will be many community pharmacists who will not have had some experience of verbal or physical abuse in their work.

All of this has consequences on the commercial operation of the business and the costs of security and theft have to be taken into account. That this is why the description of some pharmacists as “methadone millionaires” is so insulting and ill-informed.

I have personal experience of working in pharmacies that have a large number of drug misusers coming in for their prescriptions and it always impresses me that they are looked after well and treated with courtesy and in a professional manner.

A final and fine example of the commitment of my profession to be involved with the treatment and rehabilitation of drug misusers is demonstrated by the words of Peter Tinkler, the owner of the Royal Mile Pharmacy: “People who get methadone are still patients. We’ve tried to treat them with the courtesy and respect that we would treat anybody else.

“This sort of incident hasn’t dissuaded me. It wouldn’t alter my feelings or stop us providing services.”

Often the headline does not tell the whole story.

James Allan

Edinpharm Limited

Bridge Road

Edinburgh