BACKGROUND: In Tajikistan, governmental policies leave the decision whether or not to sell syringes to people who inject drugs (PWID) to pharmacists' discretion. This exploratory study tests a theory-driven model explaining Tajikistani pharmacists' actual syringe sale practices to inform future HIV advocacy activities.
METHODS: Data were collected via attempts to purchase syringes without prescription and a subsequent survey among a sample of 232 pharmacists in two cities (Dushanbe and Kulob) in Tajikistan in 2015. The survey collected data on attitudes and beliefs related to selling syringes to PWID, stigma against PWID and background contextual factors such as social conservatism, HIV and drug use knowledge. Structural equation modelling was used to assess the relationships between syringe sale practice and pharmacists' attitudinal and background factors.
RESULTS: The majority (87.9%, n = 204) of sampled pharmacists agreed to sell syringes to the study research assistants without a prescription. According to the final model, agreeing to sell syringes was moderately associated with the reported intent to provide syringes without prescription (β = 0.36, p < 0.001), lower stigma against PWID (β=-0.43, p = 0.01), and stronger social conservatism (β = 0.35, p = 0.02). Intent to provide syringes correlated with positive attitudes towards provision of syringes (β = 0.35, p = 0.008), which in turn were negatively associated with stigma (β=-0.54, p < 0.001) and positively with age (β = 0.20, p = 0.03). Stigma against PWID was directly associated with social conservatism (β = 0.47, p < 0.001) and inversely with university-level education (β=-0.28, p < 0.001).
CONCLUSION: We demonstrated the accessibility of over-the-counter syringes in urban pharmacies of Tajikistan and emphasized the role of stigma in shaping pharmacists' syringe sale practices. Advocacy interventions should target pharmacists to reduce stigmatization of PWID and ensure access to clean syringes.