Today I’m going to take a bit of a departure from what I normally write about. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it somewhere, but my “real” job (the one that “makes that money,” as Madeline puts it) is in pharmacy. I’ve worked as a pharmacist for…gosh…9 years now? And I’ve worked in the pharmacy under various roles for going on 15 years. During that time, I’ve come to understand just how awful our healthcare system really is. I don’t want to get all political here, so I’m going to focus on one area that’s often overlooked, and where pharmacists play a pivotal role: syringes.
Syringes aren’t used nearly as often now as they were when I started in this profession, but enough people still use them (either regularly or just in emergencies) that it’s still an issue. Most people use them to inject insulin from vials (insulin pens are becoming much more popular due to ease of use, which is why we’re seeing a decline in syringe sales), but they’re also used to inject other medications (vitamin B12, testosterone, and progesterone are the most common ones I see). Pet owners also use them more than you’d think – there are a lot of diabetic cats out there. They’re also, unfortunately, used by some to inject illegal drugs.
Here in Wisconsin, syringes are allowed to be sold without a prescription. However, this state falls into a weird “legal because it’s not illegal” zone. There are some states in which you need a prescription to get them, and some states have an actual law stating that no prescription is required. Wisconsin does not mention syringe sales in its laws or statutes, meaning that each pharmacy is allowed to make their own rules about who they will sell them to.
So here’s my problem with this situation – discrimination is rampant, and I don’t understand why. Some pharmacists and/or pharmacies have taken it upon themselves to question the ever-living-snot out of anyone requesting syringes who doesn’t look like they’re somebody’s cookie-baking grandma. “What are you going to use these for? What type of insulin do you use? How many units are you injecting? Where do you get your insulin? How did you run out? Why don’t you have a prescription? What’s your usual pharmacy? Why aren’t you getting these there?” Answering the questions “correctly” is no guarantee that a pharmacist will allow syringes to be sold if they get a bad feeling about the person or think they seem shady. Sometimes, a pharmacist just looks at a person and says “we don’t do that” without even going through the motions of asking further questions. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a person will realize you’re asking too many questions and decide to walk away without pressing the issue. By their logic, asking these questions helps to deter users of illegal drugs from buying syringes. Then we can all laugh about how they “scared away the druggie.”
This. Is. Stupid.
I’ll say it again for those in the back.
IT’S STUPID, POINTLESS, HARMFUL, NEGLIGENT, AND A WASTE OF EVERYONE’S TIME AND ENERGY.
To see why I say that, let’s do a little thought experiment. When deciding the best course of action, I find it helpful to ask “What’s the best case scenario?” “What’s the worst case scenario?”
What’s the best case scenario if you refuse to sell someone syringes? A drug user doesn’t get syringes. Does this mean that they won’t use drugs? Of course not. No “druggie” in the history of the world has ever said “Well, no clean syringes for me, I guess I’ll just skip the drugs today.” I guarantee you that any heroin user (or whatever the kids are injecting these days) who can’t get a clean needle is going to go out and find a dirty needle. Heck, you can walk into the bathroom at any hospital, clinic, and even sometimes the local library, and find a goody box filled with used needles if you’re so inclined to break open the sharps container on the wall. Share them with your friends, steal them from your grandpa, whatever. It’s harder to find the drugs than the syringes, and lord knows the drugs are easier to find now than ever before. At most, you’ve created a minor inconvenience.
So what happens when needles are shared between users? HIV/AIDS, HepC, HepB, along with the risk of local infections at the injection site. “So what? Who cares if they give themselves AIDS? That’s what you get from doing drugs.” While I don’t disagree that people should “just say no” to doing drugs, I also recognize that when people contract these blood-borne diseases they wind up costing all of us, the whole healthcare system, a crap ton of money. That’s right – WE pay for their office visits, their treatment, their ER visits, all of it. So even if you don’t care about them as people who deserve their best chance at getting clean and becoming a contributing member to society, you should still care that you’re paying for their healthcare if the worst should happen.
So that’s the best scenario. What’s the worst case scenario to denying the sale of syringes? Someone with diabetes can’t inject their insulin.
So now I ask, is it really worth the power trip you get from saying “No needles for you!”? They’re either trying to be a somewhat responsible drug user, or they’re trying to stay alive. Give them the damn syringes.