Drive Is on to Decriminalize Syringe Sales to Drug Users

Article excerpt

Should pharmacists sell syringes to illicit drug users? Whether you are for or against it, be aware that public health officials are pushing to make this happen.

To drive home this point, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recently sponsored a conference on the subject in San Antonio, in association with the American Pharmaceutical Association and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Speakers at the conference said there are overwhelming data showing that the sale of syringes prevents the spread of AIDS and other blood-borne diseases. They also declared that pharmacies are the best distribution point for syringes because R.Ph.s are most trusted, are widely accessible, and already sell condoms and provide counseling to patients.

Pharmacists have mixed feelings on this issue. Those who oppose it say they don't want to "enable" drug abuse. Besides, the sale of syringes to injection drug users (IDUs) runs counter to what they have been taught-that drugs should be used responsibly. Finally, even if they believe that selling syringes serves a compelling legitimate need, the laws and regulations in many states restrict them from doing so.

Indeed, there is a patchwork of statutes and rules that tie R.Ph.s' hands, acknowledged Scott Burris, J.D., professor, Temple University, Philadelphia. Some states require a prescription before an R.Ph. can sell a syringe. Others call for medical justification or require R.Ph.s to keep records of the sale. Many states have drug paraphernalia laws banning the sale and possession of devices designed for drug abuse, he said.

However, pharmacists' fear of liability may be overblown. Burris told the audience that he has found "no reported case" in which R.Ph.s have been prosecuted for selling needles. His point was reinforced by Donald Williams, executive director of the Washington State Board of Pharmacy, who said his state has never disciplined pharmacists over this issue as long as he's been head of the board.

Burris urged the audience to do the following: In states where the sale of syringes to IDUs is legal, "just do it." In states where they are unsure, ask about the status. Finally where the practice is banned, they should help change the laws and regulations.

APhA also backs the sale of syringes to IDUs. …