Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 90, Issue 2, pp 276–283 | Cite as

Pharmacy Syringe Purchase Test of Nonprescription Syringe Sales in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2010

  • Alexandra LutnickEmail author
  • Erin Cooper
  • Chaka Dodson
  • Ricky Bluthenthal
  • Alex H. Kral


The two main legal sources of clean needles for illicit injection drug users (IDUs) in California are syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and nonprescription syringe sales (NPSS) at pharmacies. In 2004, California became one of the last states to allow NPSS. To evaluate the implementation of NPSS and the California Disease Prevention Demonstration Project (DPDP), we conducted syringe purchase tests in San Francisco (SF) and Los Angeles (LA) between March and July of 2010. Large differences in implementation were observed in the two cities. In LA, less than one-quarter of the enrolled pharmacies sold syringes to our research assistant (RA), and none sold a single syringe. The rate of successful purchase in LA is the lowest reported in any syringe purchase test. In both sites, there was notable variation among the gauge size available, and price and quantity of syringes required for a purchase. None of the DPDP pharmacies in LA or SF provided the requisite health information. The findings suggest that more outreach needs to be conducted with pharmacists and pharmacy staff. The pharmacies' failure to disseminate the educational materials may result in missed opportunities to provide needed harm reduction information to IDUs. The varied prices and required quantities may serve as a barrier to syringe access among IDUs. Future research needs to examine reasons why pharmacies do not provide the mandated information, whether the omission of disposal options is indicative of pharmacies' reluctance to serve as disposal sites, and if the dual opt-in approach of NPSS/DPDP is a barrier to pharmacy enrollment.


Nonprescription syringe sales IDU SB1159 California Pharmacy Policy 



We would like to thank Michèle Thorsen for her research assistance in San Francisco, and Patricia Case for sharing the syringe purchase protocol.


This study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse grant number 1R21DA024966-01A1.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Lutnick
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erin Cooper
    • 2
  • Chaka Dodson
    • 2
  • Ricky Bluthenthal
    • 3
  • Alex H. Kral
    • 1
  1. 1.Urban Health Program, RTI InternationalSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Urban Community Research CenterCalifornia State University Dominguez HillsCarsonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Preventive Medicine, Institute for Prevention Research, Keck School of MedicineUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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