The cloud of opioid abuse will not be permanent

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Some considerable time has passed since the retail and wholesale drug store business has found itself on the wrong side of the headlines, allegedly the perpetrator of offenses it usually defends against or, at the least, is ignorant of.

Such, unfortunately, is not the case in the ill-omened opioid situation. In this instance, several of the nation’s largest chain drug store retailers, as well as the nation’s three largest drug wholesalers, find themselves in the unusual and unwelcome position of explaining, justifying and excusing a situation wherein countless consumers inadvertently became involved in a drug overdose epidemic that resulted in untold deaths and many more life-altering mental and physical — and irretrievable — ­alterations.

The intent here is not to place blame. Nor is it to justify or excuse a situation that never should have been allowed to occur in the first place. The industry which is so dear to so many of us has long hung its hat — and its reputation — on the fact that the American pharmacist is among our must trusted ­professions.

How many times in the past has the child with a splinter been set aright by the attentions of the friendly pharmacist at the corner drug store, the practitioner who took the time and the trouble to minister to the youngster? How many stories have appeared in the daily and weekly consumer press lauding the good fortune of Americans for the simple expedient of living in close proximity to a medical professional who put ethics before profits, who has always been there in time of need — and who, we all knew, always would be? How many advertisements and commercials have made the pharmacist the centerpiece of a simpler world where goodness inevitably triumphed and all would come out well in the end?

A far cry from the current situation where the opening items on the local television news, morning or evening, concerns money demanded or money paid to attempt to make right a situation that never should have clogged the airwaves to begin with.

How many morning newspapers now devote a significant part of page 1 to the latest wrinkle in the case that simply will not disappear? How many times do we all ask, silently but sincerely, when will this ever end?

Saddest of all, the people and companies being pilloried are our friends, our neighbors, our associates, our business acquaintances, our partners. Even the trade press has not been spared. No longer has a trip to Deerfield, to Providence, to Harrisburg, to Columbus, to Philadelphia been a journey to gather the facts behind a milestone achieved, an objective met, a plateau reached. Even the most innocent and well-intentioned of these visits, once anticipated by both the host and the guest, is now shrouded in deeper purpose, even if that purpose is never discussed, never even alluded to, never even mentioned.

In its way, it’s as though a favorite aunt has been accused of abducting her favorite nephew, a much loved grandfather suspected of stealing the family jewels, a revered in-law convicted of marrying not for love but for money. In their defense, the aunt, the grandfather, the in-law say nothing — because there is no defense.

Will drug store retailing and wholesaling return to normal? Of course they will. Too many decent and honorable people and companies have too much honor interred with their bones for it to be otherwise.

Will it ever again be as it was, with “doc” patiently waiting for the boy with the splinter, his needle at the ready, his iodine on hand? Of course it will. Americans, and all people, have little tolerance for greed, offer little excuse for misbehavior, allow little margin for error.

So the minions of the business press will continue to journey to Deerfield, to Providence, to Harrisburg, to Columbus, to Philadelphia to retrieve the story, to renew old friendships, to reminisce, to laugh, to discuss the past and plan the future. Moreover, the future will still exist for the fortunate few who have embraced relationships, transformed them into friendships that have blossomed into shared experiences of common interests, shared vacations, shared adventures.

Yet industry people will inevitably ask, “When did it come to this?” The answer is painfully simple: It came to this the first time some member of our profession bought, distributed or dispensed a prescription drug that the person knew was irretrievably dangerous.


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