Staff safety: working with addicts

This article looks at how to deal sensitively with customers who have dependence issues, while also keeping yourself safe

The pharmacy you work in doesn’t have to run a needle exchange or methadone supply service for you to come across customers with dependence issues. Community pharmacies across the country help those with addictions and drug misuse problems using various means of support, but it is not just those services that drug addicts choose to visit a pharmacy for. Often, their general health is poorer than non-addicts so you may find that many are also making use of the products and advice on offer in the pharmacy to address certain conditions.

While some addicts may steal to support their habit, or exhibit violent or anti-social behaviours, not all of them do. You have a duty to treat all of your customers with the same level of respect – which means conquering any preconceptions you might have. The key to dealing with possibly unpredictable customers is having good interpersonal skills.

Addiction is an illness and addicts are just like any other patients, so don’t make assumptions about them because whatever you are thinking will show on your face, and your reaction can create a reaction from them. When it comes to patients who have dependence problems with OTC medicines, be honest. There is no point lying to someone who keeps coming in for a particular OTC product and telling them it is out of stock because they will simply go elsewhere for it.

Your pharmacist should be honest and confront them about their repeated requests and explain why you are not prepared to sell them more of the product. On the other hand, it is worth being diligent and alert, and it’s important to know what to do in the event of a theft or violent incident involving anyone who comes into your pharmacy. By law, all employers must carry out a workplace risk assessment, which should include assessing the risk of violence.

If you are concerned about the threat of violence, you should work with your employer to lessen and mitigate this. You may also have concerns about the possible risks to staff of running a needle exchange service, so discuss these with the pharmacist and observe the relevant SOPs. Although high levels of criminality can be associated with drug addiction, it is important to remember that patient confidentiality still applies, and that customers with dependence issues have the same rights to NHS services – and respect – as anyone else.


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