Examining nonprescription syringe sales in Massachusetts and Rhode Island community pharmacies

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Background: The role pharmacies play in addressing the opioid crisis and drug-related risks such as injection drug use is evolving. Estimating the prevalence of injection drug use at the community level is challenging because of the stigma of drug use. Many community pharmacies sell nonprescription sterile syringes; thus, pharmacy-level sales of injection equipment may be an indicator of drug-related harms and unmet needs of high-risk populations. Objectives: To describe, compare, and assess the convergent validity of staff-reported nonprescription syringe (NPS) sales volume and NPS administrative sales data from community pharmacies in Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI). Methods: This study employed both prospective cross-sectional survey data collection and utilization of administrative pharmacy sales data. Between November 2017 and January 2018, we administered a telephone-based survey to estimate average weekly NPS type and volume for 191 chain pharmacies (CVS Health) located in communities experiencing fatal opioid overdoses above the state's 2015 annual median rate. For the same time period, we obtained NPS sales data from surveyed pharmacies and all CVS Health pharmacies in the 2 states. We calculated Spearman correlations to assess convergence of average weekly volume between pharmacy staff reports and sales data. Results: All pharmacies responded to the survey. Most (98.4%) pharmacies surveyed sold NPS, but 42.0% reported running out of stock monthly or more frequently. Pharmacy staff tended to under-report syringe sales. Staff-reported weekly NPS sales volume was 67,922 versus 70,962 syringes from administrative pharmacy sales data. Spearman correlation between reported and actual NPS sales was 0.40 (95% CI 0.27–0.51). Conclusion: The counts of administrative pharmacy syringe sales data in MA and RI indicate high need, substantial volume, and notable access at community pharmacies. Future research should use NPS sales data rather than self-report data to track emerging trends and tailor local responses.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of the American Pharmacists Association