Patient or Criminal?

This is a guest blog by Peter Kelly.


People who use drugs are often presented in an inaccurate and dehumanised way. Over the last decade I have gotten to know the stories of hundreds of people who use drugs and it completely changed my perception of drug addiction. Drug users don't take drugs for fun, they take them to escape painful realities.


Let me tell you a story about Mr. P.  When Mr. P was a teenage boy his father died in a tragic freak accident at work. His mother couldn’t fend for all her children by herself so Mr P was taken into institutional care. While in care he was continually raped two to three times a week for a period of two years. He then committed criminal damage to a public building and was jailed.


He says most people are upset when they go to jail, but he was relieved. He felt it would be the end of his sexual abuse. While in jail he suffered numerous mental health and stress issues due to the abuse he had endured. He would get extreme nightmares and have agonising insomnia. Someone gave him heroin to smoke. He smoked it, and it helped him sleep and it helped him cope.


He developed an addiction to heroin. He became a regular smoker of heroin. He smoked every day. His addiction was not huge and he never injected. He picked pockets to pay for his addiction. Picking pockets made him feel bad about himself so he got on a methadone program so he wouldn’t have to pay for his medicine. He still smokes heroin, roughly once every two weeks.


Do you think this man is a patient or a criminal? Does he take drugs for health reasons or for pleasure?


In the eyes of the law this man is a criminal. There is no grey area, it is black and white. Heroin has no medicinal properties. It is a recreational drug of abuse. People do not take it for health reasons they take it for fun and pleasure and therefore they deserve to be punished for taking it.


I think the law is wrong. I don’t think this man took heroin for fun or pleasure. I think he took it for emotional and psychological pain relief. If you break your leg you can get very strong opioids similar to heroin (Oxycodone) off your doctor to relieve that pain. You can’t get strong opioids though for emotional and psychological pain through legal markets, only through illegal ones. Do we really believe that the emotional pain of being raped by those who are supposed to protect you is less than the physical pain of breaking a limb?


This man is a patient in need of care and compassion, branding him a criminal is adding insult to injury.



Peter Kelly qualified as a pharmacist from the University of Brighton in 2005.

In 2016 he was a finalist in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's 'I love my pharmacist,' competition.

He regular writes about health and pharmacy issues. He has a regular column with Pharmacy Business Magazine.

You can follow him on Facebook under: The Friendly Pharmacist.