Conspiracy or economics?

felix's picture
Brisbane, Australia

It was harder to buy a syringe than to score heroin, today in Brisbane.
I spent an extremely frustrating afternoon at work after making an assumption as to the ongoing availability of syringes.  My partner made the dangerous and laborious public transport trip across town to Toowong after scoring with our last hundred dollars.  My input to the process was to cross the road from my work and buy a 'sharps kit', local slang for an incredibly overpriced piece of packaging - 5 X 1 mL Terumo syringes, a sterile water container, swabs and a few filters, for somewhere in the region of $6 to $9.
With the dope and my partner just a few minutes away I went up to the counter at Toowong Discount Drug Store (07 3371 9657) and asked the woman behind the counter the same question I have asked for the last fifteen years.
Discount Drug Store logo
"Can I have a sharps kit please".
But this time she asked me to repeat the question - unusual, as I always just buy one thing there, and I knew the person serving me. I repeated the question, including the 'please', and was told that they didn't stock syringes anymore.
"So where does around here?" I asked. 
"I don't think anywhere does." she replied. Nonetheless I tried the nearby Terry White (07 3870 7470), went up to the counter, was told they also did not  supply them, but were perhaps a little sympathetic. "There's another chemist next to the RE in High Street" she told me, but in a tone that implied I'd have no luck there.
She was right, An Asian lady turned me away in one of these new superchemists (Chemist Warehouse, 07 3870 2727) that stock pharmaceuticals like in a grocers, racks and shelves and trolleys. How ill a nation are we to need these places?
Anyway, I was pretty agitated by now. I'd expected to be stoned by now and grabbing a quick bite with my partner. Instead I was beginning to think that it was the 80s again, that Harm Minimisation never happened, that Hep C and HIV didn't exist.
I rang Taringa Day and Night Pharmacy) (07 3252 5629) where I'd bought many sharps kits from when staying at or visiting my parents. No go.
I was considering, by now, catching a bus to the next suburb across, Indooroopilly, for its blot-on-the-landscape Shoppingtown. But something told me to ring first.
I tried Bradley's Pharmacy, who'd been there when my mum had cancer, I had memories as a child of going there. They'd sold me kits before. However, when they answered they were now called Harrison's Pharmacy (07 3878 3635), and the girl told me she only had 'diabetic syringes'. I responded hopefully.."Yes, that's the one, you mean one mL sharps don't you?"
She told me she'd need to get her supervisor. A minute later an older man asked me what I wanted. I told him. He told me he only had syringes for diabetics, and only if they carried some kind of a card.
What was going on? I was angry at this point. I asked him what he thought of Hep C, of HIV? Wasted breath. He told me his stores had never sold sharps, it was not a new decision. I retorted that I'd bought sharps there dozens of times. But one of the beauties of mergers and acquisitions - it lends a kind of legal-truth to his statement. Harrison's never sold sharps. The previous store in the same location with the same staff may have sold sharps, but this store in the same location with the same staff never had.
I tried the last chemist in Indooroopilly, a Day and Night (07 3378 1726), on Station Road, no go. I asked them where I could buy a syringe in that area. Sherwood I was told.
At that point I gave up. I had to be back at work. Sherwood would be an hour or more there and back on public transport. My partner got on a bus back home, to a dirty sharp. I waited a few hours until after work and dug a clean out of the car.
I don't know if all the chemists conspire to not sell cleans. I know that when I started working in Toowong in 1996 I could get my daily methadone dose there. These days I have to go to Highgate Hill, as more and more chemists stopped supplying the service. Is it economics? Methadone dispensing is easy money - the government covers the syrups cost, and you can charge what you like - I pay $40 a week, so I give my chemist over $2000 a year for something that costs them nothing. I don't know what the markup on a sharps kit is, but it has to be at least as good as on confectioneries and other frontline products.
So do they not sell sharps because they don't like the people it brings in? Do they know that Australia owes its world leading low HIV infection rates in large part due to the availability of clean syringes? 
Do the chemists think that a junkie will throw away their packet if they cannot buy a utensil to inject it with? Do they not know that a dirty syringe a week old and of uncertain origin becomes an option when the simple and cheap option is removed.
I would love to hear from anyone who has information on recent changes to chemists supplying syringes.
Here again are the chemists who refuse to supply clean utensils to paying customers. Feel free to ask them why.:

  • Discount Drug Stores Toowong (07 3371 9657)
  • Terry White Chemists Toowng (07 3870 7470)
  • Chemist Warehouse Toowong (07 3870 2727)
  • Taringa Day and Night Pharmacy (07 3252 5629)
  • Harrison's Pharmacy Indooroopilly (07 3878 3635)
  • Indooroopilly Day and Night (07 3378 1726)


sayarsan's picture

I had a notion but never thought it had come to this. Since the 80's there has been a paradigm shift. People are reduced to first principles when they are fearing for their lives, or those of ones they might know especially with an add campaign to rub it in. 
Distasteful as it no doubt was health workers, which is what the manager of a pharmaceutical supermarket fancies itself when it might just as well be a bureaucrat in the Health Department, put their shoulders to the wheel to plug the dike holding back the flood of plague on our doorsteps.
The government in its bid for votes kicked in with grants to employ junkies to take care of their own with outfits like QUIVAA and before long we got places like Biala etal dishing out aqua distil, swabs, cigarette filters and plastic bottles for old sharps which drug addicts had shrugged off for years in complete safety. I still use tap water and never waste a swab, the filters are handy but dunny paper always worked fine before and an empty drink bottle is an excellent sharps disposal.
Hey presto! The onus is no longer on our friendly health professional at the local supermarket so they ditch the pretence and go back to their true vocation which is managing a franchise for some faceless conglomerate. It would be worth checking to see if the Pharmacy Guilds have been debating this since it is their function.
When I moved to a new suburb bereft of a wide choice of pharmacies I couldn't find a local to dispense methadone. Granted I wasn't a very desirable customer with the looks of someone who had just been spat out of a gulag but I was desperately in need. Unable to tolerate consuming my whole dose bolus in the shop I was literally dying to find an alternative until the clinic arranged for me to pick up seven days a week. Work days at one Pharmacfy and weekends at another two miles away rain, hail, or  burning sun. It became even more ridiculous when I asked for a bit of valium to help me sleep so I could manage without the pot I can't afford to buy. This entailed going to a third chemist to pick up 5mg Valium every day for 10 days and a fortnight later 10mg every day for 5 days. Complicated? I also had to go to the clinic which is at least 3hrs return trip by two buses for reviews. An eight hour day from the time I leave to the time I get back.
The chemist I see on most week days is polite now that my manner has become more tractable and when I queried him about the Valium issue he replied "We don't even like dispensing Methadone and Suboxone but have no choice."..clue here. Perhaps Terry White pharmacies have an arrangement to handle such unsavoury business and all the franchisees must comply since my weekend chemist is also a Terry White franchise. As for irregular arrangements like the Valium the individual manager may have the leeway to refuse.
It seems plain that we are entering a new era of puritan attitudes where multinational drug companies are as pure as the driven snow while the people in need of modern health care are judged by their afflictions. If you have big healthy veins I suggest you use 23g needles with a 2.5ml syringe. The wider guage needles stay sharp longer and are more suited to a bigger barrel. They can be sharpened with emery paper when necessary. Rinse repeatedly with clean water before and after use, bleach will perish the plastic and burn your veins. Don't think for an instant that I recommend this practice but this is a sight for junkies, not just drug addicts and we know too well what a discompassionate lot junkies are, most no better than the afore mentioned bureaucrats and shop keepers and often more disinclined to tolerate their unfortunate cohorts.We abandon traditions at our peril unless they have always been bankrupt. Out with the old and in with the new before it has even been through 'sea trials'.
More importantly this paradigm shift does not bode well for internet freedom at a time when a site like this serves a useful function on top of providing amusement. Cyberspace is the realm of serious warfare now so I think it's time we tooled up.

felix's picture

I have often sat bewildered listening to you describe the hoops you jump for your daily dose, but to see it written on paper....Perhaps they think that if they make it hard enough you'll be cured?  Similar to Middle Ages practice of starving bad spirits out of schizophrenics.
I agree re the 'added extras', theswabs, the filters, the bins...but the sharps are irreplaceable.
Thanks for the info re Pharmacy Guild. I'll find out which group these shops belong to.
Re re-use of sharps - I'm a bit reticent. I guess I weas weaned on the 'don't re-use' ad campaign, and the campaigns of our youth seem to have the deepest roots. But speaking factually, I have a two inch track on my left arm that came about from a few weeks in Thailand with just three sharps, whereas my right arm has just a small spot despite tens of thousands of injections - the difference? Left arm was re-used tools, right arm is always fresh cleans. (If I had a third arm I'd call it 'control').
I must admit in the depths of my anger yesterday I foresaw a return to a white-teethed and white-smocked pharmacy future, one where the phrase 'family pharmacy' has as much meaning as 'maintenance program'. A future where sharps get sold along with gear, and re-use is re-introduced, and a sharp becomes a prized possession, not a disposable utensil. And I saw Campbell Newman standing behind the counter, smocked and smiling, dispensing not just meds but morality.

sayarsan's picture

A pity I couldn't just clk a 'like' button as you mentioned in comment to a post some time ago. The problem is it encourages a flimsy attitude to serious problems. A bit like posting on a fb page when a specialist site in need of input is too many clks away.
There was a sense of bravado as we sharpened our picks on the side of a matchbox indignant that the only chemist in the area who sold sharps was closed and his competitior across the road refused us smug in the knowledge that we were trapped. I asked him straight one time; "what am I to do? Sharpen an old one on the side of a matchbox?" His jaw dropped and his eyes bulged "I wouldn't dream of such a thing!" to which came the retort "You should start because you are forcing me to do it, I am sick and there is one cure".
It could be argued by some draconian minds that the circumstances I was faced with after my shrink retired, I had relocated out of the metropolitan area, and had been going through a couple of years of extensive dental work, all compounded by alcoholism to leave me incapable of eating a full meal so that I could barely keep body and soul together. A life led housed in a boarding house full of loud, distasteful and sociopathic refugees from vacant lots and burnt out houses they referred to as squats,
I had been reprieved to a compund housing similar people who wasted no time in imposing their habits on the residents who had more considerate attitudes. I set about trying to educate them into a more adaptive approach to buying pot only to derive my satisfaction from systematically throwing them out of my flat while selling to those well behaved customers at a price that made the swampies wince and scheme even harder. It became a sort of warfare where my familiarity with Uncle Bill's mind control methods worked astounding results. More on that later.
Been there and done that as a fighting fit young man but am still convinced that if not for the uncanny timing of a phone call from the oldest friendship I ever had, and whatever he enlisted managed to do for me, I would never have been online much less blogging with a clear head now. When it comes to a protracted battle one needs a secure place of operations and ultimately this must rest within each of us and this will be the seat of our locus of control. It will never be found behind a plastic facade with images promising instant gratification.
This is the real logic behind the strict approach. Nothing at all to do with a sense of desperation forcing a sensible behaviour on anybody but simply a re-assertion of core human values and what the human mind is capable of at times of extreme duress.
On another level this exposes the false promises being held out by slobs with no real ability to work or stick their necks out when they agitate for others to start something as deadly as a revolution/civil war in a complacent population when the only examples of such things are born of acute duress amongst people who are barely literate. No wonder that the halcyon days of joy and celebration are soon usurped by self appointed leaders. The ever present jokers who laugh cynically as they enjoy the wealth of a population which has jsut been fooled again..

sayarsan's picture

A pity I couldn't just clk a 'like' button as you mentioned in comment to a post some time ago. The problem is it encourages a flimsy attitude to serious problems. A bit like losting on fb page when a specialist site in need of input is too many clks away.