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Physician Prescribing of Sterile Injection Equipment To Prevent HIV Infection: Time for Action

Scott Burris, JD; Peter Lurie, MD, MPH; Daniel Abrahamson, JD; and Josiah D. Rich, MD, MPH
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Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 2000;133(3):218-226. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-133-3-200008010-00015
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Injection drug users, their sex partners, and their children are at high risk for acquiring HIV infection and other bloodborne diseases. The risk for disease transmission in the United States is partly the result of restricted access to sterile injection equipment. Physicians and pharmacists can play an important role in providing syringe access by prescribing and dispensing syringes to patients who use injection drugs and cannot or will not enter drug treatment. Prescribing and dispensing injection equipment are ethical, clinically appropriate, and fully consistent with current public health guidelines on disease prevention. An analysis of the laws of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico finds that physicians in nearly all these jurisdictions may legally prescribe sterile injection equipment to prevent disease transmission among drug-using patients and that pharmacists in most states have a clear or reasonable legal basis for filling the prescriptions. Given these medical and legal findings, physicians may wish to take a larger role in improving access to sterile injection equipment by prescribing this equipment for their patients where this practice is legal, and by joining efforts to change the law where it poses a barrier.

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