confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy
confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy

Back in the day the crime of breaking into pharmacies for their high grade drugs was common, and a crime which the authorities initially struggled to control, but by the mid-80’s the art of “screwing a chemist” had petered out.

As a kid I knew of a guy who got caught up in using dia-Morphine, dycanol, cocaine and other pharmaceutical grade drugs – supporting his habit by raiding chemists up and down the UK ”“ clearly causing a little bit of havoc on the way! Recently he went through some of his “memoirs” and I got the chance to record some of the details”¦

First time”¦

For me doing chemists started back in the early 80’s, my mate had already done one with one of the older guys round our way, a chemist in a small town called Brigg, I remember because he had loads of chemist gear on him, coke, opiate based drugs like Dia-Morphine, Dykanol, plus powders and pills, as well as new clothes and money; but he wouldn’t share anything with me, so being young and foolish I thought I’d have a go my self, but first I needed to find someone to show me how.

The confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy

It wasn’t long until one of the older guys in my neighbourhood recruited me for a trade in stealing chemist gear, showing me how get in and out of the chemists and get into the DDA boxes where all the gear was kept, named D.D.A after the Dangerous Drug Act these were well sturdy box’s made to keep all dangerous drugs in, and the likes of us out!! The bottles of chemist “smack” and chemist coke back then cost the chemist £99 each but to us a lot more which was a pretty penny in the early 80’s.

This guy was called Rampy and he was an old hand at chemist cracking but was getting on a bit so he decided to take me on as his apprentice so to speak, but he was still game and knew all the tricks and schooled me in doing sneaky creeps to quickly opening DDA boxes, and other things like ringing the police up to tell them where the strychnine was than rather try dispose of it your self, but with out bringing it on top and getting pulled.

When you’d be hauling everything in to your bag you didn’t have the time to see what the bottles and jars were and read the labels, so by mistake people would take the strychnine which of course is lethal; and if it were ever to find its way into the water table the result’s would of been disastrous, a few bottles of that could wipe a small town out.

But back then it was possible to go into a chemist at night and empty the DDA box because of the low levels of security which the authorities and chemists eventually wised up to, but in the early 80’s not only could you get your hands on all this chemist gear but you could make a lot of money out of it as well, though I never did it for the money.

So one day Rampy picked me up and we set off to do a Boots chemist in Hessle, Hull that he’d had his eye on during one of his scouting missions looking for desirable targets in the day time, chemists that looked good for a screw.
You see when Rampy started doing chemists back in his day they would do the private chemists and the health centres because that’s where they thought the best supplies were until they did a Boots chemist one night and realised just how much they stocked, back then all Boots chemists were well fucking stocked and had loads of drugs, anyway in short we got a right haul out it that night and it started me off on a mad mission for the next 5-6 years having chemists off all over the UK, off our trolleys.

Going home and away with my mates watching low league football and scrapping with local rivals Grimsby was were I was getting my kicks from at time time. My town had a not bad little name in the mid 80’s having some real good clashes with the Bury’s, Peterborough’s and Darlington’s of this world; but after that first taste of chemist gear I became a full time “cracker” and as much as I loved the opiate drugs we’d get it was the chemist coke I just couldn’t get enough of, my life became dedicated to getting it and needless to say it all got rather heavy.

On 1…

I’d do chemists with a few different lads back in the day, one job I remember was with a lad called Rush and we went to Spalding to do a Boots, again. Urban and village chemists were some of the best to hit as they had to keep plenty of opiate based drugs in for the old folk who would live in the area, cancer patients get through a lot of morphine based med’s so the local chemists had to keep a full box”¦ so were on this Boots chemist, we get in and were on the DDA box and for some reason we cant get it open.

The confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy
Examples of DDA storage units

These DDA boxes were sturdy things but we’d take a sledge hammer and a crow bar, the hammer to wallop it in the middle of the door so that the pins at either side would buckle open, then prize it open with the crow-bar… bingo!
So I’ve got my foot on the counter pulling like fuck on the crow-bar to get this box open but it just wouldn’t budge, it just buckled, but though it wont pop open I can feel the bottles of tablets and powders by sticking my fingers in, hearing it all rattling about but we had to leave it as we’d been in there too long by then.
I cant tell you how much it broke me at the time leaving it and I was swearing I was coming back to get my hands on that box, which we did, well at least try

But when we eventually did go back it was far too busy, too many people knocking about for some reason so we swerved it but we still very hungry for a touch, and high as kites. We noticed the shop next door was a jewellery shop which had no grills, it looked a good job with all the gold in the window and in the back in glass cases, so we thought “fuck it” we’d not come out for nothing, so ended up doing that instead and got £16,000 grand’s worth of gold, which we punted straight away for £2,500 to a dodgy market trader Rush knew because it was hot property and its a quick sale, you know, we wanted the money not the hassle of getting rid to all and sundry while trying not to get nicked with it, it was all over the local news.

At the time Rush had a big blue Ford transit van that had a window missing round the back and one missing on the side and looked a bit of a puller to be honest but all we could think about was finding another chemist because we didn’t give a fuck, we both had a crazy thing for chemist gear, as you can imagine its purity was high and so were we most of the time but even though we had money it wasn’t that much use as we didn’t buy it off others, we did the chemists our selves and we were both addicted to getting the boxes as much as using the gear – we were a mess, so we ended up going to Retford in Nottinghamshire to do their Boots over instead.

We get there and make our way to the back entrance and go to jammy the side door open but it just falls to the ground, Boom… straight on the floor with its hinges falling off, we couldn’t believe it, they might as well as left us the keys.
So were in and straight on the box and out in a jiffy, get back to the van and discovered that we’d hit the jack pot, we’d never had so much powder from a box as we did that night, our biggest haul ever with 3 big bottles of each, the smack and coke, 2 bottles of Methadone powder and 2 bottles of Morphine each as well and that was just one shelf of it, though you’d always pick up drugs you didn’t want, we used to give the Methadone linctus away because we never bothered with it, same with Diazepam which are well sought after these days, so with the quick cash from the gold we were laughing, well at the time we thought we were, you know.


Another time we went to Newquay to find a chemist to have off, we’d earned a few hundred quid from grafting so we hired a car and drove all the way down passing Birmingham and other places looking for chemists we hadn’t already screwed as we had really been taking the piss round Yorkshire who in the end North Yorkshire Police caught me and others for a load of chemists, they weren’t happy and had even been given extra Government money to catch me and others at it as it was beginning to come on top, we must of robbed every do-able chemist in Yorkshire, it felt like it anyway and for people like me and the era of screwing chemists, it was all coming to an end.

The confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy

So while driving down to the West Country we’d be stopping on the motorway every half an hour or so, stopping at every petrol station… but not for petrol. I had a few bottles of chemist coke left from the last chemist we’d done so every petrol station was the Q for another hit, straight in the toilets to cook up though the other problem would be actually getting out because it was 1 big rush then “I’ll have one more, then I’ll go” but you’d end up having “one more hit” again, and so forth resulting in some one having to come into the toilets to literally drag me out. We also had bottles of Morph on us so even though we were well stocked I think we just couldn’t help doing chemists over, it was the thrill of getting these DDA boxes, getting in them and finding what you got.

Anyway we get down there and we’ve got no digs, we’ve about £600 and loads of chemist drugs and a load of Morph from the last chemist we did. First of all we had to find a hardware shop and buy a couple of sledge hammers and crow bar, tools of the trade, then find a chemist and wait till 2-3am. The Boots on Newquay igh street looked good to us, well at the time it did but we were off out heads so when there was no one about we let the front door have it, full throttle with the sledgehammers and we were in, straight over the counter and clock the boxes in the corner, it was always the same, each Boots had the same set up so the box is tightly adjacent to the wall so you couldn’t get the crowbar in, no leverage…. but we smacked it right in the middle with a 40lb’r and the springs buckled both ends, get the swan neck of the crow bar in the top and we were in, and to our surprise it was loads of bottles of whiskey, 2 trays of it and only the top tray was full of drugs, pills and powders.

Actually it wasn’t the first time we’d found whiskey in a DDA box, especially by the “old boy” chemists who would like a tipple here and there but this took the piss, there was loads of it, we got more whiskey than chemist gear that night, normally we would leave what ever booze we found, we weren’t interested in it and we weren’t into robbing some old boys afternoon nip but as there was bottles and bottles of it so we had it off, like you do. We’d also some times find jewellery and cash because some people used the DDA box as a safe as well, but after a while this became rarer due to them being targeted so much.

In fact it was me and others being targeted in the end as our escapades were beginning to make us very sought after people, primarily with North Yorkshire Police, as one by one we were all nicked by this special squad and we all went to prison, some longer than others and some not ever making it back out as HIV started to spread rapidly across that community of people, sharing needles was quite common back then and either these people died in prison or at home or went to Leeds for treatment as Leeds Infirmary was the north’s major HIV treatment centre.

The confessions of a real life drugstore cowboy

I went to prison and did my time and its all history now as I’ve moved on from that type of living, I do frequent certain chemists still but only for the odd box of paracetamol or to pick up a doctors prescription, you know, no need for the sledgehammer these days.

Previous articleWatch this! Mark Stewart new video featuring Bobby Gillespie
Next article20 great cover versions
drive careful cos I'm walkin...


  1. Oh the memories. Tubs of tammazies. 1000 in each. Bin bags full of stuff from the DDA. Been there, done that and got the T-shirt fella.

  2. I can remember my older mate who was wise in the DDA box contents giving me dykanol in the mid 80s that he just got the night before, and he had hundreds of green and yellow eggs that he sold and injected, they scared me injecting the eggs, but the toxic pink liquid of dykanol was OK for me,


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here