Examining the effects of COVID-19 on pharmacy dispensing of naloxone and syringes sales across Massachusetts and New Hampshire

J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2023 Jan-Feb;63(1):330-335.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.japh.2022.10.012. Epub 2022 Oct 15.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdowns disrupted access to harm reduction supplies and services known to be effective in overdose prevention and contributed to a worsening of the opioid crisis. However, because pharmacies can provide naloxone and sell over-the-counter (OTC) sterile syringes, their continued operation throughout the pandemic potentially reinforced a public health role as a distribution hub for safer use supplies.

Objectives: The objective of this analysis was to examine patterns of naloxone and OTC syringe sale volume at 463 community pharmacies in 2 states with high overdose rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: We analyzed weekly pharmacy-level dispensing data from January 5, 2020, to December 31, 2020, from one corporate community pharmacy chain in Massachusetts (n = 415 pharmacies) and New Hampshire (n = 48 pharmacies). Descriptive statistics and visualizations over the analytical period were generated as initial explorations of the outcome. Zero-inflated Poisson and negative binomial models were used to analyze distribution data along with county-level COVID-19 case rates and store-level COVID-19 testing location status during the same time. Interactions tested the effect of COVID-19 case rates on naloxone and OTC syringe sales.

Results: Pharmacies that reported selling nonprescription syringes and dispensing naloxone during the study period averaged 210.13 OTC syringes sold and 0.53 naloxone prescriptions per week. Pharmacies in communities that experienced greater COVID-19 case burden also exhibited higher naloxone dispensing and OTC syringe sales during this period. The odds of selling OTC syringes increased over time but naloxone dispensing remained constant over the pandemic year. Pharmacies hosting COVID-19 testing tended to have lower OTC syringe sales and naloxone provision than nontesting sites.

Conclusion: During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies provided harm reduction services and dispensed lifesaving medications by quickly adapting to fulfill community needs without disrupting co-located services for COVID-19 response.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19*
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Drug Overdose* / drug therapy
  • Drug Overdose* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Naloxone
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • New Hampshire
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Pandemics
  • Pharmacies*
  • Pharmacy*
  • Syringes


  • Naloxone
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Narcotic Antagonists