Stopping by the pharmacy yesterday afternoon, I walked to the counter at the back of the store and that’s when I saw her. I recognized her immediately. The addict.
It wasn’t her fishnet knee-highs that told me, or her messy black hair, or her bare navel. It was the color of her skin.
Also the way she fidgeted.
And the way she trained a keen eye on the three pharmacists whose heads knocked together, scrutinizing a printed paper script behind the counter. The way she bit her fingernails, and tried not to rock on the balls of her feet.
I had handed my script for Topamax to the technician and was lining up my questions since it’s a new medication for my migraines. I was also distracted by the fact that this was one of the pharmacies where I used to get my drugs. Used to sit in one of the vinyl chairs and keep an eagle eye trained on the pharmacist, just like this woman.
She was standing next to me, black curly hair unkempt, green T-shirt riding above a slack belly, fingertips with bitten nails constantly adjusting black-fishnet knee-highs. She looks like an addict, I thought latently, and told myself I was wrong. Then I looked at her face, the colorlessness of her cheeks, the dark circles beneath her haunted eyes, and I was sure I was right.
The staff came to a kind of agreement and the head pharmacist (whose face I recognized) brought the script back to her, and I heard her breath draw in between clenched teeth. Because she knew she would not get what she was so obviously desperate for.
I’ve had multiple pharmacists working over one of my scripts in days gone by. And the four words she spoke were words that I myself used to try to inflect with neutrality and intelligence:
“Is there a problem?”
The pharmacist said the doctor’s intent had been clear: he MEANT three per day, but he had not written a total count, so they could not fill the prescription. They could not write it in; they could not call him, he could not fax a new one, because the drug called for was (I was not surprised to hear him say) “a Schedule II narcotic” and federal law prohibited any of those changes.
She’d have to take the script back to the doctor and get him to write a new one.
I remembered being in similar binds: my physician forgetting to sign the script, specifying the wrong dosage, the wrong total amount, the wrong date. Every detail on a Schedule II opioid script has to be letter-perfect. When you’re in desperate straits, sweating, withdrawing, it’s difficult to focus on the details. You just want what you want.
As the technician processed my Topamax order the girl snatched her script and left the pharmacist speaking in mid-sentence, not even bothering to hide her rage. Two minutes later, outside, I looked for her, hoping to talk with her, but of course she was gone.