Minnesota Pharmacy Syringe/Needle Access Initiative - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Minnesota Pharmacy Syringe/Needle Access Initiative

A program to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs (PWID).

On this page:
Purpose of Syringe Access Legislation
Reasons for Syringe Access
Access and Selling of Syringes
Syringe Disposal
Other Syringe/Needle Disposal Options
Syringe Access Initiative Evaluation
For More Information


There are two basic types of sterile needle access strategies: needle exchange and pharmacy sales. The Minnesota Syringe Access Initiative is a law that promotes pharmacy sales to help reduce the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, among PWID.

This law, passed by the Minnesota State Legislature, began July 1, 1998. Since then, persons are able to purchase up to 10 new syringes/needles without a prescription at pharmacies that voluntarily participate with this initiative in Minnesota.

Key provisions of the legislation include the following:

  • Pharmacies may voluntarily participate with the initiative
  • Pharmacies may sell up to 10 syringes/needles at a time without a prescription
  • An individual may legally possess up to 10 unused syringes at a time
  • Syringes/needles cannot be openly displayed for purchase by customers
  • Pharmacies may not advertise the availability of syringes/needles
  • Pharmacies are encouraged to supply information on HIV testing and prevention
  • Participating pharmacies are encouraged (but not required) to participate in the following syringe disposal activities:
    • Distribute brochures about syringe/needle disposal
    • Refer customers to a medical facility that accepts home generated sharps
    • Refer customers to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Disposing of needles and syringes or their local county hazardous waste site for procedures for syringe/needle disposal
    • Participate in a sharps container distribution and collection program
    • Collect used syringes from customers

Purpose of Syringe Access Legislation

  • To reduce transmission of HIV and HCV among PWID
  • Allow access to sterile syringes to prevent PWID from sharing infected needles; and
  • Reach PWID with information about drug treatment programs, safe disposal of used syringes, HIV counseling and testing, and how to prevent HIV transmission.

Reasons for Syringe Access

  • No area of HIV prevention has been more thoroughly researched;
  • There is overwhelming evidence that syringe access programs contribute to reducing HIV related risk factors among PWID, and can be implemented without harmful social repercussions;
  • Deregulation of syringe sale and possession has not been found to increase the availability of illicit drugs; and
  • This public health strategy is supported by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Institutes of Health.

Access and Selling of Syringes

  • Syringes are available at participating pharmacies statewide;
  • Participation is voluntary among pharmacies;
  • The Minnesota Department of Health will keep a list of all participating pharmacies; and
  • Persons may call the Just Us Health AIDSLine to find out their closest participating pharmacy.

Syringe Disposal

  • Proper disposal of used syringes is a critical issue for the Initiative. This is to avoid discarded needles on streets, playgrounds, parks and parking lots.
  • A brochure on safe home syringe disposal is available upon request. Safe home disposal tips include the following:
    • If not using a commercial disposal box or kit to dispose of used syringes/needles ("household sharps"), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recommends using clear plastic bottles with screw top caps like a one-liter soda pop bottle, as a container for disposal. Other containers may burst open upon compaction in the waste hauler’s truck;
    • If a clear plastic bottle is not available, a hard plastic container with a lid should be used for needle disposal;
    • Put used needle or syringe point first into container. Keep the container handy when using and discarding needles;
    • Keep cap on container when not putting in needles and store the container out of the reach of children;
    • Containers can be ½ full of needles before disposal;
    • Label a piece of tape "Do Not Recycle: Household Sharps" and put on the container;
    • Place sealed container in your garbage bag and seal; and
    • Local city departments or waste haulers may have other requirements.
  • For more information, visit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Disposing of needles and syringes page or download their Disposal options for needles and syringes (PDF) fact sheet.

Other Syringe/Needle Disposal Options

  • Some hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and HIV street outreach programs may dispose of used needles and syringes. Call your nearest facility regarding what type of container is required.
  • Some pharmacies and sanitation companies sell disposal boxes and kits. Call your nearest facility for more information.
  • Some city departments and waste haulers have specific requirements for needle disposal. Check with them for your area's procedures.

Syringe Access Initiative Evaluation

An evaluation was completed to assess the impact the syringe access initiative had on: needle sharing practices; syringe disposal practices; access to syringes; and, syringe sales at participating pharmacies.

The evaluation showed that pharmacy-based syringe purchases increased significantly while the sharing of syringes between PWID decreased during the initiative. There was no change in the frequency of safe disposal of the syringes as a result of the initiative.

Source: Cotton-Oldenburg, Niki, et al, "Impact of Pharmacy-based Syringe Access on Injection Practices Among Injecting Drug Users in MN, 1998 - 1999," JAIDS, June 1, 2001, Vol. 27: 183 - 192.

More Information

  • Learn more about syringe access and disposal, HIV and HCV prevention and testing services, and access needle exchange programs by contacting the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.
  • Pharmacy Registration or Removal: Syringe Access Initiative Form
    Online form to add or remove pharmacies participating in the syringe access initiative.

  • Justus Health: Syringe Exchange
    Information about this and other exchange sites are available under the other exchange locations heading.
  • Learn more about safe disposal options for needles and syringes by visiting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

  • Always contact your city department or waste hauler for local disposal requirements of needles and syringes. Never put loose syringes directly in the trash.

Updated Friday, 03-Apr-2020 08:32:15 CDT