When Former Pharmacy Guild National Councillor and Australian Pharmacist of the Year, Angelo Pricolo first introduced methadone at his pharmacy he had little resistance from his staff.

 Angelo’s experience is not a common one, however, with comments such as this one made by a senior retail manager at a community pharmacy – “if we start dispensing methadone you know I’ll leave?” – the more common response.

We are surrounded by drugs, addiction and dependence, yet what is it about treatment that gets so many people agitated?

There are still many barriers to treatment for people with a pattern of hazardous opioid drug use. Affordability and access to doctors and pharmacists willing to provide the service are usually cited as the two biggest barriers.

For some, though, the biggest problem is stigma, which can manifest amongst treating GPs, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.

Stigma consists of three elements – ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Discrimination against the stigmatised group can effect access to services, the prospects of getting a job and can lead to verbal and physical abuse.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the highest global rights authority, called for treatment and counselling for drug addicts.  He said at the launch of the 2011 World Drug Report at UN Headquarters in New York that “Drug-dependent people should not be treated with discrimination; they should be treated by medical experts and counsellors. Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime.”

In order to reduce the stigma of treating addicts among pharmacy assistants, this year’s Pharmacy Assistant National Conference (PA Conference) will for the first time include a session on harm minimisation.

Facilitated by Angelo Pricolo, the session will screen the documentary he produced in 2008, ‘Fighting the Dragon with Luck’.

“The documentary features music from Claire Bowditch and is an uplifting journey that explores addiction and treatment in the Australian setting” Angelo said.

“Former WHO doctor and Australia’s leading addiction specialist Dr David Jacka who stars in the documentary will also be presenting at the conference, which provides an incredible opportunity for PAs to learn from a world-renowned expert on this topic”.

The PA Conference is taking place from 2-27 October at Sea World Resort on the Gold Coast. For further details on this and other program topics, visit www.pharmacyassistants.com.