Pharmacists summoned in row over methadone

A NUMBER of pharmacists who have withdrawn from the methadone treatment scheme were yesterday ordered to appear before a Competition Authority inquiry into a possible breach of competition law.

Gardaí, accompanied by members of the Competition Authority, issued the summons to pharmacists on behalf of the authority when they visited chemists yesterday.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU) said the latest development, which was worrying and significant, was unhelpful. A spokesperson said it was the policy of the Competition Authority not to comment on ongoing investigations.

About 140 pharmacists in Dublin suspended their participation in the scheme earlier this week in a row over a new pay structure.

They are claiming that a key issue relates to their right to be represented by a trade union and the failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to support them in the delivery of the methadone treatment scheme. There was some contact between the HSE and the IPU yesterday but no progress was made.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said it was totally wrong for pharmacists to involve drug addicts in their dispute. There was no justification for the pharmacists’ action and they should stop immediately, he stressed.

The Minister for Health, Mary Harney, said it was very regrettable that people who needed methadone to stay off heroin were affected and urged pharmacists to provide services to this vulnerable patient group.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), which regulates the pharmacy sector, said it had been notified about difficulties ensuring alternative sources of methadone were in place.

PSI registrar Dr Ambrose McLoughlin said the society had to ensure adequate contingency measures were in place for patients, especially vulnerable groups. If there were delays in providing alternative sources of methadone, pharmacists must ensure that patients’ needs were met, he stressed.

The PSI has also asked the HSE and IPU to agree on contingency measures.

Local drug taskforces in Dublin also urged pharmacists to stop an action that they suggested had already caused significant damage.

IPU president Michael Guckian pointed out, however, that there had been more than 200 drug raids on chemists in the Dublin area in the past year. He said the union supported the action taken by pharmacists and believed they had done nothing illegal.

One Dublin pharmacist, who had a gun pointed to his face four times over the past two and a half years, claimed his colleagues had been forced into the action: “I do think we have a social responsibility to look after drug addicts but we have been backed into a corner.

“There are risks. In my career I have faced a gun four times and that is more than my father, who is an ex-garda, has ever done,” he said.

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.