Date of Award

Fall 1-9-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Natalie Crawford, PhD

Second Advisor

Richard Rothenberg, MD MPH


Background: To curb the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases several studies indicate the need for improved access to medical care for injection drug users (IDUs) including those already linked to syringe exchange programs (SEPs). However, availability and access to services remains a problem for many IDUs. This study seeks to examine perceptions of medical care access among a pharmacy-based sample of IDUs, utilization of medical services among IDUs and, identify barriers to accessing health care services to help ensure that IDUs receive appropriate care when needed and reduce the transmission of diseases.

Methods: Data was obtained from the Pharmacists As Resources Making Links to Community Services (PHARM-Link) study. Dependent variables: health care access to the same provider and receiving care a usual source, health care utilization of services including the emergency room, clinic, medical office, medical mobile unit and hospital; and health care barriers categorized as personal or structural. Independent variables were insurance status, homelessness in the prior six months, case management, drug treatment and socio-demographic characteristics such as age, sex, income, education and employment status. Descriptive statistics analysis and logistic regression were performed using SAS version 9.4 (2013) with significance set at p<0.05.

Results: Our sample included 615 IDUs participating in the PHARM-Link study. Overall, IDUs accessed health services and having the same provider remained statistically higher among those with legal income above $5,000 OR: 1.60 (95% CI: 1.03- 2.48), the insured OR: 4.11 (95% CI: 2.48-6.79), and those with positive HIV status OR: 7.64 (95% CI: 3.18 – 18.36), while those who were homeless reported lower access to the same provider OR: 0.63 (95% CI: 0.43 – 0.92). Only the older age group OR: 2.85 (95% CI: 1.42-5.73) and the insured OR: 3.42 (95% CI: 1.81-6.46) remained significantly associated with more access to receiving health needs at the same location. Those with some college education had less frequent visits to the clinic OR: 0.59 (95% CI: 0.38-0.92) and medical office OR: 0.64 (95% CI: 0.41-0.99), while the homeless were more likely to visit the emergency room OR: 1.49 (95% CI: 1.06-2.11). Females were less likely to go to a mobile unit OR; 0.52 (95% CI: 0.33-0.83) and married people were more likely OR: 1.95 (95% CI: 0.28-0.91). Visit to the hospital were less likely among females OR: 0.54 (95% CI: 0.36-0.81) and among those with some college education OR: 0.63 (95% CI: 0.41-0.96). Those with legal income above $5,000 were less likely to have any personal barriers OR: 0.64 (95% CI: 0.45 – 0.92). Structural barriers remained more likely among those who were homeless OR: 1.62 (95% CI: 1.13-2.39), but less likely among those 44 years and older OR: 0.58 (95% CI: 0.40-0.85), the insured OR: 0.60 (95% CI: 0.38-0.94), those with positive HIV status OR: 0.53 (95% CI: 0.28-0.99), as well as Non-Hispanic Blacks OR: 0.47 (95% CI: 0.14-0.83) and Latinos OR: 0.47 (95% CI: 0.25-0.86).

Conclusion: Our results suggest that most IDUs linked to care through pharmacy-based SEP programs established to expand health services and improve health, did access available health services. However, some continue to experience difficulties such as structural barriers among the homeless as well as few reported visits to the clinic, medical office and the hospital among the employed believed to have resources to pay for such services. These services may have been underutilized because the participants were unsatisfied with the services provided. Therefore, interventions should target structural barriers such as homelessness among IDUs as well as health insurance coverage to help increase access to and utilization of health services.