To present a summary of the existing literature on syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and to discuss the potential role of pharmacists in providing support for injection drug users (IDUs) and such programs.
To identify relevant articles published since 2000, a search of PubMed and Medline was conducted using syringe exchange programs and needle exchange programs as search terms. A manual review of each article's citation list was also conducted.
By the authors.
Information is presented in four categories: state and federal support of SEPs, characteristics of SEP users, epidemiological studies, and social reluctance for SEP support. The information summarized in these sections is then used as a foundation for a review of the potential role of the pharmacist.
SEPs have demonstrated a clear effect in improving the health outcomes of IDUs by decreasing the transmission of blood-borne disease and lowering high-risk injecting behaviors. Despite conflicting support for SEPs at both the federal and local levels, pharmacists can play a pivotal role in the health of IDUs by providing sound medical advice and, in some states, acting as an alternative channel for obtaining clean syringes. Efforts should continue to focus on educating pharmacists about this role and how their individual actions can benefit the health of the entire population.