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1.  Syringe Acquisition Experiences and Attitudes among Injection Drug Users Undergoing Short-Term Opioid Detoxification in Massachusetts and Rhode Island 
Access to sterile syringes for injection drug users (IDUs) is a critical part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C virus, and other bloodborne pathogens. Understanding IDUs’ experiences and attitudes about syringe acquisition is crucial to ensuring adequate syringe supply and access for this population. This study sought to assess and compare IDUs’ syringe acquisition experiences and attitudes and HIV risk behavior in two neighboring states, Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI). From March 2008 to May 2009, we surveyed 150 opioid IDUs at detoxification facilities in MA and RI, stratified the sample based on where respondents spent most of their time, and generated descriptive statistics to compare responses among the two groups. A large proportion of our participants (83%) reported pharmacies as a source of syringe in the last 6 months, while only 13% reported syringe exchange programs (SEPs) as a syringe source. Although 91% of our sample reported being able to obtain all of the syringes they needed in the past 6 months, 49% had used syringes or injection equipment previously used by someone else in that same time period. In comparison to syringe acquisition behaviors reported by patients of the same detoxification centers in 2001–2003 (data reported in previous publication), we found notable changes among MA participants. Our results reveal that some IDUs in our sample are still practicing high-risk injection behaviors, indicating a need for expanded and renewed efforts to promote safer injection behavior among IDUs. Our findings also indicate that pharmacies have become an important syringe source for IDUs and may represent a new and important setting in which IDUs can be engaged in a wide array of health services. Efforts should be made to involve pharmacists in providing harm reduction and HIV prevention services to IDUs. Finally, despite limited SEP access (especially in MA), SEPs are still used by approximately one of the three IDUs in our overall sample.
PMCID: PMC3535136  PMID: 22427232
Injection drug users; IDUs; Syringes; Non-prescription syringes; Pharmacy; Syringe; Exchange program; Needle exchange program; Harm reduction
2.  Access to syringes for HIV prevention for injection drug users in St. Petersburg, Russia: syringe purchase test study 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:183.
The HIV epidemic in Russia is concentrated among injection drug users (IDUs). This is especially true for St. Petersburg where high HIV incidence persists among the city’s estimated 80,000 IDUs. Although sterile syringes are legally available, access for IDUs may be hampered. To explore the feasibility of using pharmacies to expand syringe access and provide other prevention services to IDUs, we investigated the current access to sterile syringes at the pharmacies and the correlation between pharmacy density and HIV prevalence in St. Petersburg.
965 pharmacies citywide were mapped, classified by ownership type, and the association between pharmacy density and HIV prevalence at the district level was tested. We selected two districts among the 18 districts – one central and one peripheral – that represented two major types of city districts and contacted all operating pharmacies by phone to inquire if they stocked syringes and obtained details about their stock. Qualitative interviews with 26 IDUs provided data regarding syringe access in pharmacies and were used to formulate hypotheses for the pharmacy syringe purchase test wherein research staff attempted to purchase syringes in all pharmacies in the two districts.
No correlation was found between the density of pharmacies and HIV prevalence at the district level. Of 108 operating pharmacies, 38 (35%) did not sell syringes of the types used by IDUs; of these, half stocked but refused to sell syringes to research staff, and the other half did not stock syringes at all. Overall 70 (65%) of the pharmacies did sell syringes; of these, 49 pharmacies sold single syringes without any restrictions and 21 offered packages of ten.
Trainings for pharmacists need to be conducted to reduce negative attitudes towards IDUs and increase pharmacists’ willingness to sell syringes. At a structural level, access to safe injection supplies for IDUs could be increased by including syringes in the federal list of mandatory medical products sold by pharmacies.
PMCID: PMC3616994  PMID: 23452390
Injection drug use; HIV prevention; Syringe access; Pharmacy
3.  Comparison of injecting drug users who obtain syringes from pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in Tallinn, Estonia 
Both syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and pharmacy sales of syringes are available in Estonia, though the current high incidence and high prevalence of HIV among injection drug users (IDUs) in Tallinn, Estonia requires large-scale implementation of additional harm reduction programs as a matter of great urgency. The aims of this report were to compare risk behavior and HIV infection and to assess the prevention needs among IDUs who primarily use pharmacies as their source of sterile syringes with IDUs who primarily use SEPs in Tallinn.
A cross-sectional study using respondent-driven sampling was used to recruit 350 IDUs for an interviewer-administered survey and HIV testing. IDUs were categorized into two groups based on their self-reported main source for syringes within the last six months. Odds ratios with 95% CI were used to compare characteristics and risk factors between the groups.
The main sources of sterile needles for injection drug users were SEP/SEP outreach (59%) and pharmacies (41%). There were no differences in age, age at injection drug use initiation, the main drug used or experiencing overdoses. Those IDUs using pharmacies as a main source of sterile needles had lower odds for being infected with either HIV (AOR 0.54 95% CI 0.33–0.87) or HCV (AOR 0.10 95% CI 0.02–0.50), had close to twice the odds of reporting more than one sexual partner within the previous 12 months (AOR 1.88 95% CI 1.17–3.04) and engaging in casual sexual relationships (AOR 2.09 95% CI 1.24–3.53) in the last six months.
The data suggest that the pharmacy users were at a less "advanced" stage of their injection career and had lower HIV prevalence than SEP users. This suggests that pharmacies could be utilized as a site for providing additional HIV prevention messages, services for IDUs and in linking IDUs with existing harm reduction services.
PMCID: PMC2653475  PMID: 19232088
4.  Pharmacy access to syringes among injecting drug users: follow-up findings from Hartford, Connecticut. 
Public Health Reports  1998;113(Suppl 1):81-89.
OBJECTIVE: To break the link between drug use and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), in 1992 the state of Connecticut rescinded a 14-year ban on pharmacy sales of syringes without a physician's prescription. In 1993, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the impact of the new legislation on access to syringes among injecting drug users (IDUs) and found an initial pattern of expanded access. However, it also found that some pharmacies, after negative experiences with IDU customers, reverted to requiring a prescription. This chapter reports findings from a four-year follow-up study of current IDU access to over-the-counter (OTC) pharmacy syringes in Hartford, Connecticut. METHODS: Through structured interviews, brief telephone interviews, and mailed surveys, data on nonprescription syringe sale practices were collected on 27 pharmacies, including 18 of the 21 pharmacies in Hartford and none from pharmacies in contiguous towns, during June and July 1997. Interview data on pharmacy syringe purchase from two sample of IDUs, a group of out-of-treatment injectors recruited through street outreach, and a sample of users of the Hartford Needle Exchange Program, also are reported. RESULTS: The study found that, while market trends as well as negative experiences have further limited pharmacy availability of nonprescription syringes, pharmacies remain an important source of sterile syringes for IDUs. However, the distribution of access in not even; in some areas of the city it is much easier to purchase nonprescription syringes than in other. All of the seven pharmacies located on the north end of Hartford reported that they had a policy of selling OTC syringes, whereas only six (54.5%) of the II pharmacies located on the south end have such a policy. Overt racial discrimination was not found to be a barrier to OTC access to syringes. CONCLUSIONS: To further decrease acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) risk among IDUs, there is a need for public education to counter empirically unsupported stereotypes about IDUs that diminish their access to health care and AIDS prevention resources and services. In states or cities where pharmacy sale of nonprescription syringes is illegal, policy makers should examine the benefits of removing existing barriers to sterile syringe acquisition. In cases in which pharmacy sale of nonprescription syringes is legal, local health departments should implement educational programs to inform pharmacy staff and management about the critically important role low-cost (or cost-free), sterile syringe access can play in HIV prevention.
PMCID: PMC1307730  PMID: 9722813
5.  Racial Differences in Acquisition of Syringes from Pharmacies under Conditions of Legal but Restricted Sales 
Injecting drug users (IDUs) are at increased risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV and other bloodborne pathogens through the multi-person use of syringes. Although research has shown that increased access to syringes through syringe exchange programs (SEPs) is an effective strategy to reduce risky injection practices many areas of the United States still do not have SEPs. In the absence of SEPs, legislation allowing pharmacies over-the-counter sales of syringes has also been shown to reduce syringe sharing. The success of pharmacy sales however is limited by other legal stipulations, such as drug paraphernalia laws, which in turn may contribute to fear among IDUs about being caught purchasing and carrying syringes.
Between 2003 and 2006, 851 out-of-treatment IDUs were recruited using street outreach in the Raleigh-Durham (North Carolina) area. Data were collected using audio-computer assisted interview (ACASI) technology. Multiple logistic regression analyses were performed to assess factors associated with purchasing syringes from pharmacies.
In our study sample, African-American IDUs were one-fifth as likely as white IDUs to report pharmacies as their primary source of syringes.
Given the absence of syringe exchange programs and the relatively high prevalence of HCV and HIV among IDUs in the Raleigh-Durham area, the limited use of pharmacies as a source of syringes among African-American IDUs in this study sample is problematic. The study findings support the need for effective multilevel interventions to increase access to clean needles in this population, as well as for policy interventions, such as legalization of SEPs and elimination of penalties for carrying syringes, to reduce harm and eliminate the health threats posed by receptive syringe sharing.
PMCID: PMC2926201  PMID: 20097052
Injecting drug users; African-Americans; purchasing syringes; carrying syringes
6.  New York City pharmacists' attitudes toward sale of needles/syringes to injection drug users before implementation of law expanding syringe access 
In May 2000, New York State passed legislation permitting the sale, purchase, and possession of up to 10 needles and syringes (hereafter “syringes”) without a prescription, intended to reduce blood-borne pathogen transmission among injection drug users (IDUs). To obtain baseline data on pharmacists' attitudes and practices related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention and IDUs, a telephone survey was administered to 130 pharmacists systematically selected in New York City. Less than half of pharmacists were aware of the new law; 49.6% were willing to or supported providing nonprescription sales of syringes to IDUs. Pharmacists in support tended to be less likely to consider customer appearance “very important.” Managing and supervising pharmacists were more likely than staff pharmacists to support syringe sales to IDUs. Managing and supervising pharmacists who stocked packs of 10 syringes and personal sharps disposal containers, pharmacists who supported syringe exchange in the pharmacy, and pharmacists who were willing to sell syringes to diabetics without a prescription were more likely to support syringe sales to IDUs. Syringe disposal was a prominent concern among all pharmacists. Those not in support of syringe sales to IDUs tended to be more likely to believe the practice would increase drug use. These data suggest the need for initiatives to address concerns about syringe disposal and tailored continuing education classes for pharmacists on HIV and viral hepatitis prevention among IDUs.
PMCID: PMC3456774  PMID: 11194317
7.  Pharmacist and Pharmacy Staff Experiences with Non-prescription (NP) Sale of Syringes and Attitudes Toward Providing HIV Prevention Services for Injection Drug Users (IDUs) in Providence, RI 
Increased access to sterile syringes among injection drug users (IDUs) has been correlated with reduced syringe sharing. Many states, including Rhode Island, have legalized non-prescription (NP) sale of syringes in pharmacies. Previous studies have suggested that training pharmacists to provide HIV-related services to IDUs may be an important opportunity to engage IDUs and provide them with such services. However, it is not clear to what extent pharmacy staff are willing to expand their roles in providing services to IDUs who come in to purchase syringes. We recruited pharmacists and pharmacy staff from the 48 pharmacies indicating NP sale of syringes in the greater Providence, RI area, to participate in an online survey consisting of demographic information; views about the current syringe laws in Rhode Island; willingness to provide HIV-related services, including referral for HIV testing, substance use treatment, and medical and social services, to IDUs; and past experiences with IDU customers. One hundred and forty-six individuals completed the online survey (32 pharmacies, 114 pharmacy staff). Most participants were employed by chain pharmacies (92%). Most participants thought that pharmacies are important resources for IDU customers (77%) and that they would be willing to provide health and prevention information/referrals to IDU customers who purchase NP syringes (59%). With respect to willingness to offer HIV prevention-related services, access to confidential space and concern about personal safety had the strongest associations with willingness to provide HIV prevention services (OR, 4.3 and 0.1, respectively). As the nature of the retail pharmacy shifts, researchers, pharmacy executives, and health care officials can build upon the willingness of pharmacists and pharmacy staff in order to address the health needs of injection drug users and other underserved populations.
PMCID: PMC3005095  PMID: 21116724
Pharmacies; IDUs; HIV prevention; OTC syringes
8.  Commentary on Vorobjov et al., "Comparison of injection drug users who obtain syringes from pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in Tallinn, Estonia" 
Recent data suggest that globally, between 5% and 10% of all new HIV cases are the result of unsafe injecting practices, and experts agree that reducing these practices is key to tackling the spread of HIV. And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that providing sterile syringes to injection drug users (IDU) through syringe exchange programs (SEPs) or other means is an effective way of reducing HIV transmission among high-risk subpopulations, IDU in most settings still do not have access to sterile injecting equipment or if they do, access remains too restricted to effectively reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Vorobjov and colleagues have presented in this journal an interesting and timely study from Estonia comparing individuals who obtain syringes from SEPs and those who obtain syringes from pharmacies. As the authors point out, Estonia faces an unacceptably high HIV incidence rate of 50 new HIV cases per 100,000, this rate driven primarily by injection drug use. As such, the authors argue that Estonia's SEP network does not have the capacity to serve a growing IDU population at risk of transmitting HIV and pharmacy dispensation of clean syringes may be one potential approach to decreasing syringe sharing among high-risk injectors. It may be overly optimistic to consider the impact of higher threshold interventions such as pharmacy-based SEPs, given that IDU populations that engage in HIV risk behaviours such as syringe sharing are often hidden or hard to reach. Despite the need for a cautious approach, however, the findings presented by Vorobjov et al. may chart one potential course towards a more comprehensive societal response to reducing the health harms associated with injection drug use.
PMCID: PMC2789049  PMID: 19943944
9.  Spatial distribution and characteristics of injecting drug users (IDU) in five Northeastern states of India 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:64.
Injecting drugs is the major driving force of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in Northeastern India. We have assessed the spatial distribution of locations where injecting drug users (IDU) congregate, as well as the risk behaviour and key characteristics of IDUs to develop new strategies strengthening intervention measures for HIV prevention in this region.
Locations of IDUs congregation for buying and injecting drugs were identified through Key Informants (KI). Verification of the location and its characteristics were confirmed through field visits. We also conducted semi-structured and structured interviews with IDUs to learn more about their injecting behaviour and other characteristics.
Altogether, 2462 IDU locations were identified in 5 states. The number of IDU locations was found to be greater in the states bordering Myanmar. Private houses, parks, abandoned buildings, pharmacies, graveyards, and isolated places were the most frequently chosen place for injecting drugs. Many injecting locations were visited by IDUs of varying ages, of which about 10-20% of locations were for females. In some locations, female IDUs were also involved in sex work. Sharing of needle and syringes was reported in all the states by large proportion of IDUs, mainly with close friends. However, even sharing with strangers was not uncommon. Needle and syringes were mainly procured from pharmacies, drug peddlers and friends. Lack of access to free sterile needles and syringes, and inconsistent supplies from intervention programs, were often given as the cause of sharing or re-use of needles and syringes by IDUs. Most of the IDUs described a negative attitude of the community towards them.
We highlight the injection of drugs as a problem in 5 Northeastern India states where this is the major driving force of an HIV epidemic. Also highlighted are the large numbers of females that are unrecognized as IDUs and the association between drug use and sex work. Understanding of risk behaviours and other key charecteristics of IDUs in the region will help in strengthening harm reduction efforts that can prevent HIV transmission.
PMCID: PMC3048534  PMID: 21281465
10.  Pharmacy Participation in Non-Prescription Syringe Sales in Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties, 2007 
Increasing sterile syringe access for injection drug users (IDUs) is one way to prevent HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission in this population. In 2005, California Senate Bill 1159 allowed counties to adopt the Disease Prevention Demonstration Project (DPDP). Where enacted, the DPDP allows pharmacies that register with the county to sell up to ten syringes to adults without a prescription. In the current study, we describe pharmacy participation in nonprescription syringe sales (NPSS) in two counties in California and examine factors associated with NPSS. Telephone and in-person interviews were conducted in Los Angeles (LA) and San Francisco (SF) with 238 pharmacies in 2007 (n = 67 in SF; n = 171 in LA). Quantitative survey items captured pharmacy registration with the county, pharmacy policies/practices, episodes and conditions of NPSS and refusals to sell, potential negative consequences of NPSS, and staff attitudes regarding HIV and HCV prevention for IDUs. Overall, 42% of pharmacies reported NPSS (28% in LA and 81% in SF), although only 34% had registered with the county (17% in LA and 76% in SF). Many pharmacies required proof of a medical condition (80% in LA and 30% in SF) and refused NPSS if the customer was a suspected IDU (74% in LA, 33% in SF). Few negative consequences of NPSS were reported. In multivariate logistic regression analysis, we found that the odds of NPSS were significantly higher among pharmacists who thought syringe access was important for preventing HIV among IDUs [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 2.95; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.10–7.92], were chain pharmacies (AOR = 12.5; 95% CI = 4.55–33.33), and were located in SF (AOR = 4.88; 95% CI = 1.94–12.28). These results suggest that NPSS were influenced by pharmacists’ perception. NPSS might be increased through greater educational efforts directed at pharmacists, particularly those in non-chain pharmacies.
PMCID: PMC2900565  PMID: 20549568
HIV; Viral hepatitis; Sterile syringe access; Pharmacy; Policy; Evaluation
11.  New York State pharmacists' attitudes toward needle and syringe sales to injection drug users before implementation of syringe deregulation 
In May 2000, New York State passed legislation permitting the sale, purchase, and possession of up to 10 needles and syringes without a prescription. The law is intended to reduce the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis among injection drug users (IDUs), their sexual partners, and their children. To obtain baseline information about the attitudes and likely practices of New York State pharmacists, we distributed a self-administered questionnaire to attendees of the state pharmacy association meeting in June 2000. Of 48 usable responses, 19% were from New York City and the rest from New York State. Of the 48, 42% were unaware of the new law before the day of the survey, and 60% were somewhat or very willing to sell needles and syringes to an IDU. Of those who were not willing to sell to an IDU, 82% cited familiarity of the customer as a very important consideration in their decision making. Those who were not willing to sell to an IDU were more concerned about the detrimental impact of syringe sales on the community, were less likely to be aware of the new law, and were more likely to be concerned about legal liability for syringe sales. Over 80% of all pharmacists believed that syringe sales to IDUs are an important preventive health measure. The majority also favored learning more about the law. Compared to other state surveys of pharmacists, these preliminary data show a similar level of interest in becoming involved with syringe availability programs.
PMCID: PMC3456767  PMID: 11194316
12.  Pharmacy Syringe Purchase Test of Nonprescription Syringe Sales in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2010 
The two main legal sources of clean needles for illicit injection drug users (IDUs) in California are syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and nonprescription syringe sales (NPSS) at pharmacies. In 2004, California became one of the last states to allow NPSS. To evaluate the implementation of NPSS and the California Disease Prevention Demonstration Project (DPDP), we conducted syringe purchase tests in San Francisco (SF) and Los Angeles (LA) between March and July of 2010. Large differences in implementation were observed in the two cities. In LA, less than one-quarter of the enrolled pharmacies sold syringes to our research assistant (RA), and none sold a single syringe. The rate of successful purchase in LA is the lowest reported in any syringe purchase test. In both sites, there was notable variation among the gauge size available, and price and quantity of syringes required for a purchase. None of the DPDP pharmacies in LA or SF provided the requisite health information. The findings suggest that more outreach needs to be conducted with pharmacists and pharmacy staff. The pharmacies' failure to disseminate the educational materials may result in missed opportunities to provide needed harm reduction information to IDUs. The varied prices and required quantities may serve as a barrier to syringe access among IDUs. Future research needs to examine reasons why pharmacies do not provide the mandated information, whether the omission of disposal options is indicative of pharmacies' reluctance to serve as disposal sites, and if the dual opt-in approach of NPSS/DPDP is a barrier to pharmacy enrollment.
PMCID: PMC3675724  PMID: 22718357
Nonprescription syringe sales; IDU; SB1159; California; Pharmacy; Policy
13.  Comparison of injection drug users accessing syringes from pharmacies, syringe exchange programs, and other syringe sources to inform targeted HIV prevention and intervention strategies 
In New York, syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and pharmacies provide syringe access for IDUs but may be unable to meet the needs of all IDUs. This analysis aims to describe IDUs who access syringes through different outlets to help inform the prevention needs of IDUs who under-utilize safe syringe sources in a city where syringe availability is high relative to other U.S. cities.
Cross-sectional study
New York City (2005–2007)
285 IDUs recruited using street-intercept sampling
Not Applicable
Main outcome measure(s)
IDUs using SEPs, pharmacies, or other outlets as a primary syringe source were compared by sociodemographic characteristics, injection practices and medical service utilization.
Chi-square tests and polytomous logistic regression were used to compare IDUs with different self-reported primary syringe sources used 6 months prior to study entry. Compared with IDUs using other syringe sources, those using primarily SEPs were less likely to be Black (AOR:0.26 95%CI:0.11–0.57), more likely to inject daily (AOR:3.32; 95%CI:1.58–6.98), and more likely to inject with a new syringe (AOR:2.68; 95%CI:1.30–5.54). Compared with IDUs using other syringe sources, those using primarily pharmacies were less likely to be Black (AOR:0.39; 95%CI0.17–0.90).
These data suggest that pharmacies and SEPs may be reaching different populations of IDUs and highlight a sub-population of highly marginalized IDUs (Black and infrequent injectors) who are under-utilizing safe syringe sources in New York City. Targeted interventions are needed to reduce racial disparities and increase utilization of safe syringe outlets.
PMCID: PMC3222463  PMID: 20199954
Syringe access; pharmacies; HIV prevention; racial disparities
14.  Not sold here: limited access to legally available syringes at pharmacies in Tijuana, Mexico 
Sterile syringe access is a critical component of HIV prevention programs. Although retail pharmacies provide convenient outlets for syringe access, injection drug users (IDUs) may encounter barriers to syringe purchase even where purchase without a prescription is legal. We sought to obtain an objective measure of syringe access in Tijuana, Mexico, where IDUs report being denied or overcharged for syringes at pharmacies.
Trained "mystery shoppers" attempted to buy a 1 cc insulin syringe according to a predetermined script at all retail pharmacies in three Tijuana neighborhoods. The same pharmacies were surveyed by telephone regarding their syringe sales policies. Data on purchase attempts were analyzed using basic statistics to obtain an objective measure of syringe access and compared with data on stated sales policies to ascertain consistency.
Only 46 (28.4%) of 162 syringe purchase attempts were successful. Leading reasons for unsuccessful attempts were being told that the pharmacy didn't sell syringes (35.3%), there were no syringes in stock (31.0%), or a prescription was required (20.7%). Of 136 pharmacies also surveyed by telephone, a majority (88.2%) reported selling syringes but only one-third (32.5%) had a successful mystery shopper purchase; the majority of unsuccessful purchases were attributed to being told the pharmacy didn't sell syringes. There was similar discordance regarding prescription policies: 74 pharmacies said in the telephone survey that they did not require a prescription for syringes, yet 10 of these pharmacies asked the mystery shopper for a prescription.
IDUs in Tijuana have limited access to syringes through retail pharmacies and policies and practices regarding syringe sales are inconsistent. Reasons for these restrictive and inconsistent practices must be identified and addressed to expand syringe access, reduce syringe sharing and prevent HIV transmission.
PMCID: PMC3121588  PMID: 21609471
15.  Feasibility of Providing Interventions for Injection Drug Users in Pharmacy Settings: A Case Study Among San Francisco Pharmacists 
Journal of psychoactive drugs  2014;46(3):226-232.
In addition to syringe exchange programs, pharmacies are important venues where injection drug users (IDUs) can access non-prescription syringes and other prevention interventions. This study assessed the feasibility of providing a range of interventions for IDUs in pharmacy settings. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 23 participants (policy makers, owner/managers, dispensing pharmacists, and pharmacy staff) from independent and chain/retail pharmacies in San Francisco, California, USA. The highest level of support was for a coupon syringe program and educational materials. Several overarching themes illustrate challenges to implementing pharmacy-based preventive interventions: time, space, sufficient staff, pharmacist training, legal considerations, pharmacist attitudes toward IDUs, and cost and reimbursement issues. This study provides concrete examples of the types of preventive services that pharmacists support and consider feasible, and illustrates that pharmacists welcome the opportunity to broaden their role as critical partners in public health matters related to injection drug use.
PMCID: PMC4112371  PMID: 25052881
Injection drug use; Pharmacy; Non-Prescription Syringe Sales; Policy; Harm Reduction; Public Health
16.  Social-structural contexts of needle and syringe sharing behaviours of HIV-positive injecting drug users in Manipur, India: a mixed methods investigation 
Few investigations have assessed risk behaviours and social-structural contexts of risk among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Northeast India, where injecting drug use is the major route of HIV transmission. Investigations of risk environments are needed to inform development of effective risk reduction interventions.
This mixed methods study of HIV-positive IDUs in Manipur included a structured survey (n = 75), two focus groups (n = 17), seven in-depth interviews, and two key informant interviews.
One-third of survey participants reported having shared a needle/syringe in the past 30 days; among these, all the men and about one-third of the women did so with persons of unknown HIV serostatus. A variety of social-structural contextual factors influenced individual risk behaviours: barriers to carrying sterile needles/syringes due to fear of harassment by police and "anti-drug" organizations; lack of sterile needles/syringes in drug dealers' locales; limited access to pharmacy-sold needles/syringes; inadequate coverage by needle and syringe programmes (NSPs); non-availability of sterile needles/syringes in prisons; and withdrawal symptoms superseding concern for health. Some HIV-positive IDUs who shared needles/syringes reported adopting risk reduction strategies: being the 'last receiver' of needles/syringes and not a 'giver;' sharing only with other IDUs they knew to be HIV-positive; and, when a 'giver,' asking other IDUs to wash used needles/syringes with bleach before using.
Effective HIV prevention and care programmes for IDUs in Northeast India may hinge on several enabling contexts: supportive government policy on harm reduction programmes, including in prisons; an end to harassment by the police, army, and anti-drug groups, with education of these entities regarding harm reduction, creation of partnerships with the public health sector, and accountability to government policies that protect IDUs' human rights; adequate and sustained funding for NSPs to cover all IDU populations, including prisoners; and non-discriminatory access by IDUs to affordable needles/syringes in pharmacies.
PMCID: PMC3120658  PMID: 21569478
17.  A community based approach to linking injection drug users with needed services through pharmacies: An evaluation of a pilot intervention in New York City 
Studies suggest that community-based approaches could help pharmacies expand their public health role, particularly pertaining to HIV prevention. Thirteen pharmacies participating in New York’s Expanded Syringe Access Program, which permits non-prescription syringe sales to reduce syringe-sharing among injection drug users (IDUs), were enrolled in an intervention to link IDU syringe customers to medical/social services. Sociodemographics, injection practices, beliefs about and experiences with pharmacy use, and medical/social service utilization were compared among 29 IDUs purchasing syringes from intervention pharmacies and 66 IDUs purchasing syringes from control pharmacies using chi-square tests. Intervention IDUs reported more positive experiences in pharmacies than controls; both groups were receptive to a greater public health pharmacist role. These data provide evidence that CBPR aided in the implementation of a pilot structural intervention to promote understanding of drug use and HIV prevention among pharmacy staff, and facilitated expansion of pharmacy services beyond syringe sales in marginalized, drug-using communities.
PMCID: PMC2883795  PMID: 20528131
Community Based Participatory Research; Structural Intervention; Harm Reduction; Pharmacies; HIV Prevention; Injection Drug Use
18.  Injection Drug Users’ Perspectives on Placing HIV Prevention and Other Clinical Services in Pharmacy Settings 
In their role as a source of sterile syringes, pharmacies are ideally situated to provide additional services to injection drug users (IDUs). Expanding pharmacy services to IDUs may address the low utilization rates of healthcare services among this population. This qualitative study of active IDUs in San Francisco explored perspectives on proposed health services and interventions offered in pharmacy settings, as well as facilitators and barriers to service delivery. Eleven active IDUs participated in one-on-one semistructured interviews at a community field site and at a local syringe exchange site between February and May 2010. Results revealed that most had reservations about expanding services to pharmacy settings, with reasons ranging from concerns about anonymity to feeling that San Francisco already offers the proposed services in other venues. Of the proposed health services, this group of IDUs prioritized syringe access and disposal, clinical testing and vaccinations, and provision of methadone. Pharmacists’ and pharmacy staff’s attitudes were identified as a major barrier to IDUs’ comfort with accessing services. The findings suggest that although IDUs would like to see some additional services offered within pharmacy settings, this is contingent upon pharmacists and their staff receiving professional development trainings that cultivate sensitivity towards the needs and experiences of IDUs.
PMCID: PMC3324615  PMID: 22231488
IDU; Pharmacy; California; Qualitative; Prevention services
19.  A national physician survey on prescribing syringes as an HIV prevention measure 
Access to sterile syringes is a proven means of reducing the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), viral hepatitis, and bacterial infections among injection drug users. In many U.S. states and territories, drug paraphernalia and syringe prescription laws are barriers to syringe access for injection drug users (IDUs): pharmacists may be reluctant to sell syringes to suspected IDUs, and police may confiscate syringes or arrest IDUs who cannot demonstrate a "legitimate" medical need for the syringes they possess. These barriers can be addressed by physician prescription of syringes. This study evaluates physicians' willingness to prescribe syringes, using the theory of planned behavior to identify key behavioral influences.
We mailed a survey to a representative sample of physicians from the American Medical Association physician database. Non-responding physicians were then called, faxed, or re-sent the survey, up to four times.
Twenty percent responded to the survey. Although less than 1 percent of respondents had ever prescribed syringes to a known injection drug user, more than 60% of respondents reported that they would be willing to do so. Physicians' willingness to prescribe syringes was best predicted by the belief that it was a feasible and effective intervention, but individual and peer attitudes were also significant.
This was the first nationwide survey of the physician willingness to prescribe syringes to IDUs. While the majority of respondents were willing to consider syringe prescription in their clinical practices, multiple challenges need to be addressed in order to improve physician knowledge and attitudes toward IDUs.
PMCID: PMC2700789  PMID: 19505336
20.  Access to Sterile Syringes through San Francisco Pharmacies and the Association with HIV Risk Behavior among Injection Drug Users 
Increased options for syringe acquisition and disposal have been associated with reductions in high-risk behaviors. This study determined the extent of pharmacy uptake in accessing syringes among injection drug users (IDUs) and estimated associations between pharmacy uptake and safer injection/disposal practices. Two years after the implementation of California’s Disease Prevention Demonstration Project, which removed restrictions to non-prescription syringe sales through pharmacies with local authorization, IDUs were recruited through street outreach in San Francisco and interviewed regarding recent syringe acquisition, use, and disposal. The sample of 105 persons included a high proportion of men (67%), people of color (49%), and homeless persons (71%). The most common syringe source was a syringe exchange program (SEP) (80%), with pharmacies being accessed by 39% of respondents. The most commonly cited source of disposal was a SEP (65%), with very few reports of pharmacy disposal (2%). Adjusted analysis showed that unsuccessful attempts to purchase syringes at a pharmacy increased the odds of both injecting with a used syringe and giving away a used syringe. Using a SEP decreased the odds of unsafe injection and disposal practices. Thus, 2 years after the initiation of the California Disease Prevention Demonstration Project, results from this small study suggest that SEPs still provide the majority of syringe distribution and disposal services to San Francisco IDUs; however, pharmacies now augment syringe access. In addition, unsafe injection behavior is reported more often among those who do not use these syringe sources. These results are consistent with prior studies in suggesting that increasing the availability of syringes through SEPs and pharmacies, and developing bridges between them, may further reduce syringe-related risk.
PMCID: PMC2900569  PMID: 20526690
HIV Risk; Injection Drug Use; Pharmacy
21.  Health and Human Rights Concerns of Drug Users in Detention in Guangxi Province, China 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e234.
Although confinement in drug detoxification (“detox”) and re-education through labor (RTL) centers is the most common form of treatment for drug dependence in China, little has been published about the experience of drug users in such settings. We conducted an assessment of the impact of detention on drug users' access to HIV prevention and treatment services and consequent threats to fundamental human rights protections.
Methods and Findings
Chinese government HIV and anti-narcotics legislation and policy documents were reviewed, and in-depth and key informant interviews were conducted with 19 injection drug users (IDUs) and 20 government and nongovernmental organization officials in Nanning and Baise, Guangxi Province. Significant contradictions were found in HIV and antinarcotics policies, exemplified by the simultaneous expansion of community-based methadone maintenance therapy and the increasing number of drug users detained in detox and RTL center facilities. IDU study participants reported, on average, having used drugs for 14 y (range 8–23 y) and had been confined to detox four times (range one to eight times) and to RTL centers once (range zero to three times). IDUs expressed an intense fear of being recognized by the police and being detained, regardless of current drug use. Key informants and IDUs reported that routine HIV testing, without consent and without disclosure of the result, was the standard policy of detox and RTL center facilities, and that HIV-infected detainees were not routinely provided medical or drug dependency treatment, including antiretroviral therapy. IDUs received little or no information or means of HIV prevention, but reported numerous risk behaviors for HIV transmission while detained.
Legal and policy review, and interviews with recently detained IDUs and key informants in Guangxi Province, China, found evidence of anti-narcotics policies and practices that appear to violate human rights and imperil drug users' health.
Based on their review of Chinese government legislation and policy documents, and using interviews with recently detained injection drug users and officials in Guangxi Province, Elizabeth Cohen and Joseph Amon find evidence of antinarcotics policies and practices that may compromise the health and human rights of drug users.
Editors' Summary
Ever since the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) epidemic began, needle sharing by injection drug users (IDUs) has been a major transmission route for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the blood-borne virus that causes AIDS. In China, for example, the AIDS epidemic began in earnest in 1989 when 146 HIV-positive IDUs were identified in Southwest Yunnan. By 1998, HIV infections had been reported throughout China, 60%–70% of which were in IDUs. These days, nearly half of new HIV infections in China are associated with injection drug use and 266,000 of the 700,000 HIV-positive people in China are drug users. Faced with these figures, the Chinese government has recently introduced measures to reduce HIV transmission among the estimated 3–4 million IDUs in China. These measures include increased provision of methadone maintenance treatment clinics and needle exchanges and the establishment of HIV prevention programs that target IDUs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Alongside these progressive public-health practices, China has extremely punitive anti-narcotics policies. IDUs are routinely confined without legal review in drug detoxification centers or sent to re-education through labor (RTL) centers, sometimes for many years. In 2005, these centers housed more than 350,000 drug users yet little is known about the conditions in these centers or how the Chinese anti-narcotic policy affects human rights or access to HIV prevention and treatment services. In this study, the researchers investigated these issues by interviewing IDUs and “key informants” (government officials and members of nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] who provide services to IDUs) about their experiences of detoxification centers and RTL centers in two cities in Guangxi Province, China.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited 19 IDUs who had been recently confined in a detoxification center or RTL center and 20 key informants (including a doctor at a detoxification center and a former RTL center guard). In the interviews the researchers used a semi-structured questionnaire to ask the participants about their experiences of detoxification centers and RTL centers. All the IDUs reported that they were repeatedly tested for HIV while in detention but never given their test results even when they asked for them. Key informants confirmed that repeated HIV testing without result disclosure is the current policy in detoxification centers and RTL centers. All the IDUs expressed concerns about inadequate access to health care in detention. In particular, most of the IDUs who were taking antiretroviral drugs before detention were unable to continue their treatment during detention, although two received antiretroviral drugs by negotiating with their guards. The IDUs and key informants also both noted that very little information or means of HIV prevention was provided in the detoxification centers and RTL centers and that HIV-related risk behaviors, including injection drug use and unsafe sex, occurred in both types of center. Finally, the IDUs reported that their fear of being recognized by the police and detained even if not taking drugs prevented them from seeking HIV tests, HIV treatment, and help for their drug addiction.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study has several limitations in addition to its small size. For example, because the IDUs were self selected—they responded to posters asking if they would be interviewed—their views may not be representative of all IDUs. Similarly, the key informants who were interviewed might have had different opinions from those who chose not to participate. Furthermore, the results reported here cannot be generalized to other areas of China. Nevertheless, the consistent experiences reported by the IDUs and confirmed by the key informants suggest that China's anti-narcotic policies and practices violate the human rights of IDUs and put their health in danger by making it hard for them to access HIV prevention and treatment or adequate treatment for their drug addiction. This situation, if not remedied, is likely to jeopardize China's attempts to control its HIV epidemic.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Steve Koester
Avert, an international AIDS charity, provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including HIV and AIDS in China and HIV prevention, harm reduction, and injecting drug use
The UNAIDS 2008 Country Progress Report provides up-to-date details about the AIDS situation in China
HIVInSite provides links to more information about HIV/AIDS in China.
Human Rights Watch works on health and human rights and human rights developments in China
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a booklet entitled Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide (in English and Spanish)
UN Office on Drugs and Crime has information on HIV/AIDS in prisons
PMCID: PMC2596857  PMID: 19071954
22.  Socio-demographic factors, health risks and harms associated with early initiation of injection among people who inject drugs in Tallinn, Estonia: evidence from cross-sectional surveys 
To explore socio-demographic factors, health risks and harms associated with early initiation of injecting (before age 16) among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Tallinn, Estonia.
IDUs were recruited using respondent driven sampling methods for two cross-sectional interviewer-administered surveys (in 2007 and 2009). Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with early initiation versus later initiation.
A total of 672 current IDUs reported the age when they started to inject drugs; the mean was 18 years, and about a quarter of the sample (n=156) reported early initiation into injecting drugs. Factors significantly associated in multivariate analysis with early initiation were being female, having a lower educational level, being unemployed, shorter time between first drug use and injecting, high-risk injecting (sharing syringes and paraphernalia, injecting more than once a day), involvement in syringe exchange attendance and getting syringes from outreach workers, and two-fold higher risk of HIV seropositivity.
Our results document significant adverse health consequences (including higher risk behaviour and HIV seropositivity) associated with early initiation into drug injecting and emphasize the need for comprehensive prevention programs and early intervention efforts targeting youth at risk. Our findings suggest that interventions designed to delay the age of starting drug use, including injecting drug use, can contribute to reducing risk behaviour and HIV prevalence among IDUs.
PMCID: PMC3566328  PMID: 23036651
Adolescents; injecting drug use; risk behaviour; Eastern Europe; Respondent Driven Sampling; HIV
23.  Secondary syringe exchange among injection drug users 
Syringe-exchange programs (SEPs) have proven to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens, primarily human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), among injection drug users (IDUs). In the United States, only about 7% of IDUs have access to and use SEPs. Some IDUs engage in secondary syringe exchange (SSE), meaning that one IDU (a “provider”) obtains syringes at an SEP to distribute to other IDUs (“recipients”). This formative qualitative research was conducted to understand why and how IDUs engage in SSE to aid in the development of a large-scale peer HIV prevention intervention. Interviews with 47 IDUs in Oakland and Richmond, California, indicated that SSE was embedded in existing social networks, which provided natural opportunities for peer education. SSE providers reported a desire to help other IDUs as their primary motivation, while recipients reported convenience as their primary reason for using SSE. Building SSE into SEP structures can facilitate an effective provision of risk reduction supplies and information to IDUs who do not access SEPs directly.
PMCID: PMC3456273  PMID: 12791808
HIV prevention; Injection drug use; Peer intervention; Secondary syringe exchange; Social networks
24.  Prevalence and predictors of transitions to and away from syringe exchange use over time in 3 US cities with varied syringe dispensing policies 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2010;111(1-2):74-81.
Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) can reduce HIV risk among injecting drug users (IDUs) but their use may depend heavily on contextual factors such as local syringe policies. The frequency and predictors of transitioning over time to and from direct, indirect, and non-use of SEPs are unknown. We sought, over one year, to: (1) quantify and characterize transition probabilities of SEP attendance typologies; (2) identify factors associated with (a) change in typology, and (b) becoming and maintaining direct SEP use; and (3) quantify and characterize transition probabilities of SEP attendance before and after changes in policy designed to increase access. Using data collected from 583 IDUs participating in a three-city cohort study of SEPs, we conducted a latent transition analysis and multinomial regressions. Three typologies were detected: Direct SEP users, Indirect SEP users and Isolated IDUs. Transitions to direct SEP use were most prevalent. Factors associated with becoming or maintaining direct SEP use were female sex, Latino ethnicity, fewer injections per syringe, homelessness, recruitment city, injecting speedballs (cocaine and heroin), and police contact involving drug paraphernalia possession. Similar factors influenced transitions in the syringe policy change analysis. Policy change cities experienced an increase in Indirect SEP users (43% to 51%) with little increased direct use (29% to 31%). We found that, over time, IDUs tended to become Direct SEP users. Policies improving syringe availability influenced SEP use by increasing secondary syringe exchange. Interactions with police around drug paraphernalia may encourage SEP use for some IDUs and may provide opportunities for other health interventions.
PMCID: PMC3087197  PMID: 20537814
syringe exchange; injecting drug use; HIV/AIDS; longitudinal study; latent transition analysis
25.  Expanded syringe exchange programs and reduced HIV infection among new injection drug users in Tallinn, Estonia 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:517.
Estonia has experienced an HIV epidemic among intravenous drug users (IDUs) with the highest per capita HIV prevalence in Eastern Europe. We assessed the effects of expanded syringe exchange programs (SEP) in the capital city, Tallinn, which has an estimated 10,000 IDUs.
SEP implementation was monitored with data from the Estonian National Institute for Health Development. Respondent driven sampling (RDS) interview surveys with HIV testing were conducted in Tallinn in 2005, 2007 and 2009 (involving 350, 350 and 327 IDUs respectively). HIV incidence among new injectors (those injecting for < = 3 years) was estimated by assuming (1) new injectors were HIV seronegative when they began injecting, and (2) HIV infection occurred at the midpoint between first injection and time of interview.
SEP increased from 230,000 syringes exchanged in 2005 to 440,000 in 2007 and 770,000 in 2009. In all three surveys, IDUs were predominantly male (80%), ethnic Russians (>80%), and young adults (mean ages 24 to 27 years). The proportion of new injectors decreased significantly over the years (from 21% in 2005 to 12% in 2009, p = 0.005). HIV prevalence among all respondents stabilized at slightly over 50% (54% in 2005, 55% in 2007, 51% in 2009), and decreased among new injectors (34% in 2005, 16% in 2009, p = 0.046). Estimated HIV incidence among new injectors decreased significantly from 18/100 person-years in 2005 and 21/100 person-years in 2007 to 9/100 person-years in 2009 (p = 0.026).
In Estonia, a transitional country, a decrease in the HIV prevalence among new injectors and in the numbers of people initiating injection drug use coincided with implementation of large-scale SEPs. Further reductions in HIV transmission among IDUs are still required. Provision of 70 or more syringes per IDU per year may be needed before significant reductions in HIV incidence occur.
PMCID: PMC3146432  PMID: 21718469

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