Ross was an ex-thug and stand – over man who had developed hepatitis C. He was now pretty sick, no longer fearsome but still dumb. He was a regular methadone patient, quite unlikeable, but constantly entertaining. He lost his driving licence but this didn’t stop him stealing a car and driving to the hospital to get his weekend doses (we were strictly Monday to Saturday). This car broke down and he scalded himself badly by removing the radiator cap while it was boiling hot. Back to hospital again, this time by pushbike (also stolen) for treatment but, on the way home, he crashed over a gutter and broke his ankle. Back to the hospital again, this time by ambulance (he didn’t have to steal this).
He was just starting to come good when he was shot in the shoulder in a drug deal (stolen) and pushed down some stairs. He was a constant disaster, always on the make but my main memory of him was when he broke down and cried on my shoulder after his grandfather died (in Calabria).
Another memory was him being involved in the only time I was held up at the point of a gun. A slimy little turd burst in just as we were closing, pulled a pistol out of his jacket and made me empty the contents of the drug safe. He wasn’t one of “my” druggies, and I later found out that Ross was waiting outside in the getaway car (stolen). Ross later told me he didn’t know I was working that night and sort of apologised by telling me the name of the bandit. I soon realised he was lying, giving me a false name to give to the police just to protect himself. I didn’t really care and didn’t pass on anything he told me.
As I mention addicts I’ve known, it will become apparent there is no stereotypical case. The young, thin, toothless and un-shaved derelict promoted by the police, the media and opportunistic politicians is a myth. Indeed it could be argued that a “typical” drug addict would be a doctor, a nurse or a pharmacist—they all have access to hard drugs, and statistics show they form a high percentage of all drug addicts.
Locum doctors, nurses and pharmacists have the worst record—they move from place to place, making detection hard, but they all eventually slip up. Alcoholism, another addiction, is also common. My father employed a locum for many years, knowing he was an alcoholic. He would hide away all the alcohol products in the shop—AB Tonic wine, Wincarnis wine, Sherry-type wine (all used as somewhat spurious “tonic” medicines) and the 95% pure alcohol all pharmacies had for making up tinctures and other extracts. This worked for a while until one of the shop assistants told my father that the locum would appear after lunch with pink lips. This was because he was getting stuck into Tincture Cardamom Co, a useful red-coloured anti-flatulence agent (with strong alcohol content).
My father had to let him go, reluctantly, because he was a good man and pharmacist, but at least he wouldn’t suffer from burping and flatulence. Years later, one of my locum pharmacists, also a good worker, did the same, with one of the girls reporting that he was always blotto after his long lunches.
For some time, a gentle and polite bloke would come in, present prescriptions for his wife for pethidine or morphine, and talk to me about her pain and suffering, often crying. I always listened, sympathised and offered suggestions for alternative cancer treatments. I finally had cause to ring her doctor about a slight mistake on a script, and this is where the truth was revealed. The doctor, a psychiatrist, was horrified saying that the bloke was also a doctor and an ex-addict, and that all the scripts were forgeries. I was usually pretty good at picking forgeries (usually choosing to either ignore them or have a quiet word to the forger, telling him to go away— of course, I was supposed to report all forgeries to the police or the Poisons Department). The psychiatrist told me I had to inform the police. I had no choice then – my wish was just to have a talk to this bloke, telling him I knew about his imaginary wife with the imaginary cancer and to congratulate him on his superb forgeries and dramatic acting.
So, the next time he bowled in, I made some pretext about waiting for the drug to be delivered. He wandered off and I rang the local police. When he came back, I sent a signal to the cops who were now parked just outside. They came in and our fabulous forger bolted out into the street and disappeared due North, chased by two red-faced, overweight cops. They didn’t have a hope as this Usain Bolt of the drug world faded into the distance. Another cop in a car finally picked him up and dragged him back into the shop. All this time our latest work-experience girl was staring wide-eyed and wondering if this was a normal pharmacy. I believe this poor bloke copped a gaol sentence for all this, which is a perfect illustration of the insanity of our drug laws.
For all the trouble they gave me, I had endless patience and concern for all these people. They actually were the ones who constantly supported me in my battles. Stephen was a gentle soul, grateful for the cheap Rohypnol and my interest in him, and he leapt to my defence when another druggie was sprawled all over the counter, dribbling ice cream, demanding some serepax and being obnoxious and loud. Stephen went red, grabbed him and bundled him out the door.
I continued working after this for another 12 years, part-time and at night, until I decided the wear and tear of 50 years in Pharmacy was enough. Again, the people most upset at my departure were the local druggies.
My final comments will deal with the latest addictions in children, the elderly in nursing homes and, yes, the ever-present desperate housewives.