By Michele Calvo, Policy Associate
A recent public health victory has gone quietly unnoticed: the 2016 federal budget agreement revised the ban on the use of federal funds for syringe support services. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released guidance for state, local, tribal and territorial health departments on how to request funds to support these essential services.
Sterile syringe access has been legal in parts of the US since the 1980s, but federal funding has been forbidden to support these services for most of this time, leaving many states and localities with under-funded programs at best, and none at worst. New York is a relatively fortunate state in terms of syringe access coverage, with syringe exchanges operating in nearly all regions with State and private funding, and some organizations operating for decades and growing to multiservice one-stop-shop health centers. Still, they face great challenges to adequately serve their participants and many programs upstate serve vast geographic regions.
“The Academy has been a long supporter of harm reduction and a public health approach to drug policy,” states Peter Schafer, Deputy Director of Family Health and Disparities. “We are currently in the second phase of a MAC AIDS funded project to support the integration of harm reduction and health care through learning collaboratives designed to foster partnerships between harm reduction and health care providers,” The first phase of this work consisted of an extensive study and report on the challenges harm reduction organizations are facing through health care reform in New York, along with new opportunities presented by health care reform initiatives to help their program participants gain access to primary and behavioral health care services.
Through the Advancing Prevention Project, we have also been delivering TA to health departments and their partners to help them implement targeted and evidence-based substance abuse prevention through a range of prevention activities including primary prevention and harm reduction. Most recently, we hosted a webinar featuring community leaders from Broome County, Staten Island, and NYC working through grassroots coalitions to prevention opioid use, overdoses and improve drug user health.
I encourage local health departments and community based organizations interested in implementing or expanding syringe access in your community to consult the new HHS guidance. Here’s hoping this long overdue change will allow us to adequately fund harm reduction in New York State!