Pharmacist attitudes and provision of harm reduction services in North Carolina: an exploratory study

Harm Reduct J. 2021 Jul 8;18(1):70. doi: 10.1186/s12954-021-00517-0.


Background: Pharmacists are among the most accessible healthcare providers in the United States and uniquely positioned to provide harm reduction services. The availability of pharmacy-based harm reduction services and pharmacist attitudes toward delivering these services have been understudied to date. We examine North Carolina (NC) pharmacists' experiences with and attitudes about harm reduction services and explore differences between rural and urban pharmacists.

Methods: A convenience sample of NC pharmacists participated in an anonymous, online survey regarding harm reduction services: non-prescription syringe sales; naloxone dispensing; and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) screening. Urban-rural differences were analyzed using Pearson's chi-square or Fisher's exact tests. Open-ended responses were analyzed thematically.

Results: Three hundred pharmacists responded to the survey; 68 (23%) practiced in rural counties. Dispensing non-prescription syringes and naloxone at least occasionally was reported by 77% (n = 231) and 88% (n = 263) pharmacists, respectively. Pharmacy-delivered HIV or HCV screening was rare. Urban pharmacists dispensed naloxone more frequently than rural pharmacies (p = 0.04). Only 52% of pharmacists agreed that persons who inject drugs should always be allowed to buy non-prescription syringes. Rural pharmacists' attitudes toward harm reduction services for persons who inject drugs were statistically, though marginally, less supportive when compared to urban pharmacists' attitudes. The most common barrier to non-prescription syringe access was requiring patients to provide proof of prescription injection medication use, which 21% of pharmacists reported was required by their pharmacy's policy on non-prescription syringe sales.

Conclusions: Although most pharmacies distributed naloxone and sold non-prescription syringes, pharmacy store policies and personal beliefs inhibited naloxone and non-prescription syringe dispensing. NC community pharmacies infrequently offer HIV and HCV screening. Paired with disseminating the evidence of the positive impact of harm reduction on individual and public health outcomes to NC pharmacists, institutional and systems changes to practice and policy may be important to promote harm reduction service availability, particularly for rural NC residents.

Trial registration: N/A.

Keywords: Community pharmacy services; HIV; Harm reduction; Hepatitis C; Intravenous; Naloxone; Substance abuse; Syringes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Drug Users*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • North Carolina
  • Pharmacists
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous*