Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy

, 4:13

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A national physician survey on prescribing syringes as an HIV prevention measure

  • GE MacalinoAffiliated withArthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health Email author 
  • , D Dhawan SachdevAffiliated withBrown Medical School
  • , JD RichAffiliated withThe Miriam Hospital
  • , C BeckerAffiliated withBrown University
  • , LJ TanAffiliated withAmerican Medical Association
  • , L BeletskyAffiliated withTemple University School of Law
  • , S BurrisAffiliated withTemple University, School of Law



Access to sterile syringes is a proven means of reducing the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), viral hepatitis, and bacterial infections among injection drug users. In many U.S. states and territories, drug paraphernalia and syringe prescription laws are barriers to syringe access for injection drug users (IDUs): pharmacists may be reluctant to sell syringes to suspected IDUs, and police may confiscate syringes or arrest IDUs who cannot demonstrate a "legitimate" medical need for the syringes they possess. These barriers can be addressed by physician prescription of syringes. This study evaluates physicians' willingness to prescribe syringes, using the theory of planned behavior to identify key behavioral influences.


We mailed a survey to a representative sample of physicians from the American Medical Association physician database. Non-responding physicians were then called, faxed, or re-sent the survey, up to four times.


Twenty percent responded to the survey. Although less than 1 percent of respondents had ever prescribed syringes to a known injection drug user, more than 60% of respondents reported that they would be willing to do so. Physicians' willingness to prescribe syringes was best predicted by the belief that it was a feasible and effective intervention, but individual and peer attitudes were also significant.


This was the first nationwide survey of the physician willingness to prescribe syringes to IDUs. While the majority of respondents were willing to consider syringe prescription in their clinical practices, multiple challenges need to be addressed in order to improve physician knowledge and attitudes toward IDUs.