Explaining Pharmacy Students’ Dispensing Intentions in Substance Abuse-Related Gray Areas Using the Theory of Planned Behavior

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Objective. To examine the extent to which theory of planned behavior (TPB) constructs and demographic characteristics explain pharmacy students’ dispensing intentions in ethically or legally gray areas involving potential substance misuse or abuse.

Methods. Two cohorts of third-year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students (n5159) were provided with five written cases describing common “gray area” dispensing scenarios in community practice involving medications and devices with potential for misuse or abuse (eg, long-term buprenorphine maintenance prescription without evidence of tapering, early refill of a narcotic for an out-of-town patient, non-prescription sale of pseudoephedrine). Students completed a 12-item survey instrument for each case. Items assessed whether the student would dispense the medication or device in the given scenario, how many times in 10 similar scenarios the student would dispense the medication or device, attitudes regarding dispensing, and subjective norm and perceived behavioral control beliefs.

Results. Wide variation in the percentages of students who would dispense the medications or devices was noted across the five scenarios (14% in the buprenorphine scenario to 61% in the pseudoephedrine scenario). Attitude scores significantly predicted dispensing decisions in all scenarios (p,.001), whereas subjective norm and perceived behavioral control beliefs were significant predictors of dispensing only in select case scenarios. Gender and community pharmacy work experience did not consistently predict dispensing intentions.

Conclusion. Student attitudes consistently predicted intent to dispense across five gray practice scenarios. These findings can be used to inform development of educational interventions that influence students’ attitudes and self-awareness in community practice decision-making scenarios involving potential substance misuse or abuse.