Publish date: Oct 2014
The paper “Addiction as seen through the eyes of a pharmacist” was published 50 years ago in the 1964 edition of the British Journal of Addiction. The author, Mr B. J. Thomas, appears to have written the paper to highlight the role of the community pharmacist in the field of addiction and (to quote) to demonstrate “how he can play his part in combatting it”. The paper gives a fascinating insight into addiction treatment in the early 60s.
The paper focuses on the pharmacist’s “duty to assert his forensic responsibilities and take whatever additional measures his conscience dictates in a determined effort to prevent and combat the evils of drug addiction”. Pharmacists were clearly on the front line (and maybe able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…..). Mr Thomas describes the various drugs that were commonly misused and many of the strategies that people used to obtain them. It was interesting that he talks solely of illicit drug use for the relief of pain rather than for pleasure-seeking. However, what really interested me was his attitude towards these people. Despite all the frustrations and difficulties, he shows a great understanding and tolerance towards addiction and to those affected by it. He recognises the desperation that some people reach and the impact that their addiction is having on a wider society.
The pharmacist’s forensic role in this field continues to be important of course, particularly in this post-Shipman era. However, I am encouraged to see how much that role has evolved in recent years in supporting people with addictions. Interventions ranging from safe administration of medicines, harm reduction initiatives (such as needle syringe programmes and supply of naloxone), blood-borne virus screening and vaccinations, sexual health interventions, smoking cessation services, and alcohol brief interventions are now available. For many, pharmacists are the only healthcare professionals that they regularly see. As such, pharmacy continues to be very much on the front line when it comes to addiction, but as Mr Thomas alluded to five decades ago, it is having the right attitude and understanding that makes the pharmacist’s role a success.
Kevin Ratcliffe FRPharmS (IP) FFRPS
Consultant Pharmacist (Addictions)
The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.