By Martin Kelly
A Labour MSP who labelled pharmacists “methadone millionaires” has been brought into line following a meeting between the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and a delegation from Scottish Labour.
Representatives from the RPS met with Jenny Marra and her party leader Johann Lamont on Thursday afternoon after the body demanded an apology and a retraction from the Labour MSP who had accused some of their members of profiting from the misery of drug abuse.
In a statement released after the meeting, Labour’s Scottish leader Johann Lamont insisted her party valued the work of pharmacists and that Labour respected their “professional commitment”.
She added: “As well as dispensing methadone, community pharmacists have regular contact with drug misusers which allow them to intervene in other aspects of caring for drug misusers.
“I also recognise the importance of pharmacists in providing services that are easier to access for hard to reach groups across Scotland. The progress that pharmacy has made in Scotland since devolution has been supported by Labour every step of the way and that commitment remains.”
The statement will be seen as a slap-down for Ms Marra who earlier this month had accused pharmacists of profiting on the suffering of recovering addicts.
Claiming the Scottish government’s drug strategy was “unravelling” the Labour MSP said: “The current system is creating methadone millionaires who are profiting exponentially from the misery of recovering addicts at taxpayers’ expense.
“It is unacceptable that chemists in some parts of Scotland make significant amounts of money from the suffering that drug addiction causes in our communities.
“Millions of pounds of ordinary Scots’ money is being wasted on topping up the incomes of pharmacies, while other treatment is being neglected.”
Her comments were criticised by other MSPs including Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie who said: “They’ve got the evidence, they’ve got the know-how. They are the best people to make the decisions to help these people out of these circumstances.
“Methadone is part of the solution and not part of the problem. We need to be very careful when we demonise families and we demonise the methadone programme.”
Immediately after her comments, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society demanded an apology and a retraction from the Labour MSP.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Professor John Cromarty, Chairman of the RPS’ Scottish Pharmacy Board said, “Our meeting with Scottish Labour was helpful. I was glad to hear that Labour respects our profession and realises what a vital role pharmacists have in providing care and harm reduction for drug misusers. There was also real recognition of the significant contribution that our profession makes to the wider community.”
Alex MacKinnon, RPS Director for Scotland said, “Pharmacists dispensing methadone are doing a difficult job and play an important role in helping drug misusers beat their addiction. It’s important to recognise that pharmacists are only carrying out their duties to the NHS by dispensing methadone.”
Commenting, SNP MSP Mark McDonald said:
“I am glad to see that Labour have now clarified the ridiculous statements they have recently made about the work that community pharmacists do.
“It seems that Jenny Marra has correctly been brought into line by her party leader after the deeply insulting remarks she made.
“The Royal Pharmaceutical Society was understandably furious at her disgraceful comments and from the sound of it has explained the enormously important work that they do in helping to treat drug users.
“It is a shame that while Labour politicians are good at demanding apologies for the Scottish Government, they appear to be incapable of publicly apologising for their own efforts.
“Having made such a misplaced attack and having been unceremoniously brought back into line, I think Jenny Marra should do what any reasonable person would expect and apologise, so that a line can be drawn under this sorry affair.”