World news wrapup: 23 July 2020

Photos from the early 80s. Image Uncollected photos from the old P Williams Chemist Crewe, via Facebook
Photos from the early 80s. Image Uncollected photos from the old P Williams Chemist Crewe, via Facebook

Quest to reunite former pharmacy customers with their 80s photos; ex-pharmacist sentenced over attempt to rob fish and chip shop; former pharmacist to stay in prison after outcry from his victims’ families

Crewe, England: A couple who came across boxes of unclaimed photographs from the 1970s and 80s have been posting them on Facebook, hoping to track down their owners.

ITV reports that Michelle Howe and Aaron Jones bought a building in Crewe which was once a P Williams Chemist, and began to look around the neglected upstairs area.

They found a number of boxes of photographs which had been left behind by previous customers who had brought them in to be developed, but not picked them up.

They set up a Facebook group, “Uncollected photos from the old P Williams Chemist Crewe,” in the hope of finding the owners.

Nearly 6,000 people have joined and their efforts have made headlines in the UK.


Leeds, England: A former pharmacist has been sentenced to 20 months in jail after he tried to rob a fish and chip shop and then assaulted a police officer.

Yorkshire Live reports that Adeel Aslam developed a dependence on prescription and illicit drugs after he was promoted to manager at a pharmacy where he worked, because he was “unable to cope” with the role.

He had been prescribed diazepam for his anxiety, began taking drugs including cocaine and stopped work in March 2019, after which time his wife left him.

Two months after the UK introduced lockdown measures to help limit the spread of COVID-19, Mr Aslam’s anxiety deepened and he spent the last of his money on drugs to manage it, Leeds Crown Court heard.

On May 19, he went to a fish shop with an “extremely” large knife and unsuccessfully attempted to rob it, threatening a worker there.

When approached by a police officer, he resisted arrest, picking her up and injuring her when he threw her onto the ground.

Judge Geoffrey Marson QC told the Court that the former pharmacist’s action in producing a large knife would have been “terrifying” and “enough to instill great fear”.


New Zealand: A study has found that most New Zealanders have large quantities of paracetamol stashed in their homes, as the entity responsible for deciding on medicines subsidy warns that COVID-19 has impacted supply of one variant.

Pharmacy has warned health professionals that paracetamol 500mg tablets for dispensing in pharmacies are in short supply, thanks to global supply issues caused by COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is impacting manufacturing and transportation around the world. The supplier is continuing to have stock issues due to decreased capacity at international manufacturing plants and difficulty obtaining flights out of India to transport stock,” says PHARMAC’s Chief Executive, Sarah Fitt. 

This week the supplier advised PHARMAC that expected shipments of paracetamol tablets have not arrived, and stock levels have dropped. Stock is likely to run out at the end of July in pharmacies.

Pharmac stressed that the shortage only applies to paracetamol 500mg prescribed by a health professional, and that it has “no visibility” when it comes to stock levels in the retail sector.

Meanwhile new research out of the University of Otago has shown that paracetamol was the most frequently reported substance in all calls to the Poisons Centre and searches of the poisons information database in 2018.

Lead researcher Dr Eeva-Katri Kumpula has led a second and unrelated study which found that of 201 homes throughout New Zealand, a large majority had paracetamol stocks readily accessible, with most having been obtained with a prescription.

She said this was not a surprise as the co-payment for a prescription of paracetamol is only $5 for up to three month’s supply or 360g of paracetamol in total.

“Ensuring people have sufficient access to paracetamol for pain management needs to be balanced with preventing unnecessary accumulation of unused stock in households to minimise inappropriate use such as for intentional self-poisoning,” she said.

“Prescribers and pharmacists need to be aware of the risks of such accumulation and assess the therapeutic needs of their patients.”


Missouri, USA: A jailed former pharmacist who was set for early release due to COVID-19 has been told he will have to remain in prison, following an outcry from his victims’ families.

Robert Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2002 after he pleaded guilty to offences relating to his dilution of cancer drugs in a money-making scheme which contributed to the early deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of patients.

Nearly 4,200 people were given 72,000 medications from 98,000 scripts in dilute form.

The 67-year-old former pharmacist is in poor health and was housed in a minimum security facility in Colorado. He had been considered eligible for home confinement as part of an initiative to reduce the burden of COVID-19 in prisons.

Lawyer Michael Ketchmark, whose office had been involved in 275 wrongful death lawsuits against the former pharmacist, told the Kansas City Star that Mr Courtney was a “sociopath” who “does not belong out on the streets”.

He said he found that Mr Courtney had been “really targeting certain types of drugs” – many of which were taken by women fighting ovarian, cervical or breast cancer.

After an outcry by victims’ families and local officials, as well as Mr Ketchmark, the Department of Justice told Senator Josh Hawley that Mr Courtney would remain where he is.

“That’s the right call,” said Senator Hawley on Twitter. “COVID-19 should not be an opportunity at jailbreak for violent offenders.”

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