Aim: To determine whether syringe exchange programs' (SEPs) dispensation policy is associated with syringe coverage among SEP clients.
Design: Cross-sectional samples of SEPs and their clients.
Setting: SEPs in California, USA.
Participants: Twenty-four SEPs and their injection drug using (IDU) clients (n = 1576).
Measurements: Clients were classified as having adequate syringe coverage if they received at least as many syringes from the SEP as their self-reported injections in the last 30 days. SEPs were classified based on their syringe dispensation policy. Dispensation schemes ranging from least restrictive to most are: unlimited needs-based distribution; unlimited one-for-one exchange plus a few additional syringes; per visit limited one-for-one plus a few additional syringes; unlimited one-for-one exchange; and per visit limited one-for-one exchange.
Findings: Adequate syringe coverage among SEP clients by dispensation policy is as follows: unlimited needs-based distribution = 61%; unlimited one-for-one plus = 50%; limited one-for-one plus = 41%; unlimited one-for-one = 42%; and limited one-for-one = 26%. In multivariate analysis, adequate syringe coverage was significantly higher for all dispensation policies compared to per visit limited one-for-one exchange. Using propensity scoring methods, we compared syringe coverage by dispensation policies while controlling for client-level differences. Providing additional syringes above one-for-one exchange (50% versus 38%, P = 0.009) and unlimited exchange (42% versus 27%, P = 0.05) generally resulted in more clients having adequate syringe coverage compared to one-for-one exchange and per visit limits.
Conclusion: Providing less restrictive syringe dispensation is associated with increased prevalence of adequate syringe coverage among clients. SEPs should adopt syringe dispensation policies that provide IDUs sufficient syringes to attain adequate syringe coverage.