Objective: To examine injection drug users (IDUs) opinions and behavior regarding purchase of sterile syringes from pharmacies.
Design: Focus groups.
Setting: Urban and rural sites in Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Patients or other participants: Eight focus groups, with 4 to 15 IDU participants per group.
Interventions: Transcripts of focus group discussions were evaluated for common themes by the authors and through the use of the software program NUD*IST.
Main outcome measures: Knowledge of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), pharmacy use, barriers to access from pharmacies, high-risk and risk-reducing behavior, and rural/urban difference.
Results: Almost all participants knew the importance of using sterile syringes for disease prevention and reported buying syringes from pharmacies more than from any other source. Two IDUs believed pharmacists knew the syringes were being used for injecting drugs and perceived pharmacists' sales of syringes to be an attempt to contribute to HIV prevention. Most IDUs reported that sterile syringes were relativity easy to buy from pharmacies, but most also reported barriers to access, such as having to buy in packs of 50 or 100, being made to sign a book, having to make up a story about being diabetic, or having the feeling that the pharmacists were demeaning them. While the majority of IDUs reported properly cleaning or not sharing syringes and safely disposing of them, others reported inadequate cleaning of syringes and instances of sharing syringes or of improper disposal. There were few differences in IDUs' reported ability to buy syringes among states or between urban and rural sites, although the data suggest that IDUs could buy syringes more easily in the urban settings.
Conclusion: For the most part, participants understood the need for sterile syringes in order to protect themselves from HIV, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus and saw pharmacies as the best source of sterile syringes. Although these data are not generalizable, they suggest that pharmacists can and do serve as HIV-prevention service providers in their communities.