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    What I learned from my friend, the drug addict

    David StanleyIt may be a sign that I'm getting older, but I find myself looking back on my pharmacy career more and more of late, reflecting on lessons of the past in an effort to learn for the future, not to mention entertaining myself with what seems more than my quota of wacky behind-the-counter stories, the lion’s share of which come from my time as a graveyard pharmacist.

    Zombies on parade

    What I remember most about those years was the group we called the “Tone People,” the folks who, more nights than not, would gather in the pharmacy seating area and wait, perfectly silent and still, until midnight. Having been told that their prescriptions, almost exclusively for narcotics or other controlled medications, would not be fillable until a certain day, these people gathered and waited for the very second that day would arrive.

    The amazing thing was how they knew. At the time, the store where I worked would change the format of its in-store radio programming at midnight to something a little peppier. This switchover was signified by a tone that indicated the shift from one format to the other. If you listened closely, you could pick it up. When that tone came, the people waiting to collect their meds would slowly start to walk to the pharmacy pickup area, almost like a group of zombies, I thought.

    Here's the clincher, though. No one ever explained the tone to them. Completely on their own, the Tone People figured out what that tone meant and how it related to them. To this day, that amazes me.

    At the time, the words and terms and attitudes that most of the pharmacy staff displayed in referring to the Tone People were ones I would say were prevalent throughout most of the pharmacy world. I wasn't any different. I found the Tone People an annoyance — at best a threat to my license and at worst a threat to society. And my attitude reflected it.

    David Stanley, RPh
    David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at [email protected]


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    • Mr. BLamparelli
      Thank you for a wonderful article. The problem is that I can't remember the last time I heard a story of or read an article about redemption until now. I am getting burned out by my "Suboxonites" getting their 1 strip a day and am amazed by the number of people under treatment..but I rarely see someone get off the drugs. I have never claimed to know what another person is feeling but it seems that my patients are split evenly between acute pain control and chronic; the chronic meaning I am under constant scrutiny from my state, the DEA, my employer and possibly even the ADA if I do what the first three want me to do. Was it bad that in the late 70's when I started there was very little in chronic pain treatment so we have rebounded to the point where the standard is now hydrocodone 10mg (more rxs than 5mg in an average day)? Canadians do not treat pain like this and I doubt Europeans do but I have no data on them. Yes, we all have our "tone people" but it would make my day/month/year to have one tell me "thanks, but I don't need you anymore".
    • Anonymous
      Dave: Excellent article. As a pharmacist with nearly 25 years of continuous recovery from narcotic addiction, I can relate on both accounts. I have done some of those things Brenda has done. I understand the addict like no other when I did my 12 years behind the counter (currently work in R&D/Medical Affairs). People quite often mistake people with addiction who chose recovery being bad people trying to get better rather than sick people trying to get better.
    • Anonymous
      I mean sick people trying to get well!