The pharmacist who confronted a mother's aerosol addiction

Veerpal Sandhu: "Confidentiality was the most important thing”
Veerpal Sandhu: "Confidentiality was the most important thing”

Veerpal Sandhu was awarded by Well for identifying a family in need of support

Pharmacists have to be prepared to have difficult conversations with their patients. Often it’s a result of an individual asking for advice or your opinion. You may need to draw on tact, compassion, and both clinical and interpersonal training. But the situation that pharmacist manager Veerpal Sandhu found herself in pushed this training to the limit.

Ms Sandhu became alarmed when a member of her team brought to her attention that a customer had been buying large numbers of aerosol deodorants. The woman was visiting the Well pharmacy in Chadwell Heath, Essex almost daily to try to purchase them. Ms Sandhu recognised that this could be a case of substance abuse – something she remembered from previous training.

Whenever the customer came into the pharmacy, Ms Sandhu tried to engage her in conversation about the amounts of aerosol she was buying. Unsurprisingly, the customer resisted.

The situation escalates

Alarm bells continued to ring for Ms Sandhu when the customer began attempting to disguise herself. “Her behaviour – and the fact she was dying her hair so that we couldn’t recognise her – was alarming,” she explains. Once the rest of the team had been informed, Ms Sandhu said “confidentiality was the most important thing”.

Members of the team began to notice that the customer often came into the pharmacy with her daughter, who had begun to look increasingly unwell. At this point, Ms Sandhu contacted the local safeguarding team, stressing the urgency of the situation. She was persistent and did not stop until she had received a reply regarding the matter.

Raising awareness

The safeguarding team said they were impressed that Ms Sandhu picked up on the customer’s motives, and by her persistence to ensure the family got the help they needed, Ms Sandhu remembers. The officer said she had never seen a case in her career where a pharmacist had picked up on something so simple and commended her level of professionalism.

Ms Sandhu reports that the children are still with their mum, and the patient now looks happy when she comes into the pharmacy. She hopes that, by sharing her story, she can raise awareness of issues like substance abuse.

As a result of their actions, Ms Sandhu and her team were awarded a 'gold star' by Well. She says she is proud of herself and her colleagues, and adds that pharmacists should have faith in their instincts and abilities to read faces.

“If there are any concerns, we can look after them.”

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Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Strange that someone with an addiction problem would go to the pharmacy to buy deodorants, where they have to run the gauntlet of a pharmacist, when they can just buy them in the supermarket with no one looking over their shoulder.

Simon Quinn,

This story leaves out lots of info. What was the aerosol ? What's the abuse ? How did she actually deal with the abuser ? Why confidentiality was her priority. Etc. 

Faiza Usama, Community pharmacist

True. Many fill in the blanks required to make sense 

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

Strange, I thought it was the pharmacists who must have been huffing paint to keep working in these large multiples.

Max respect to the Pharmacist in this instance though.


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