Harm reduction is a comprehensive set of public health strategies and interventions that aim to reduce morbidity and mortality among substance abusers, namely persons who inject drugs (PWIDs). When implemented, harm reduction programs (HRPs) can reduce the likelihood of transmission of blood borne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV in an area while also reducing the potential of needle sharing among PWIDs. Additionally, HRPs often have mechanisms in place to link and refer individuals to substance abuse prevention and treatment services, behavioral health services, and other support services.
Data collected by the West Virginia Health Statistics Center showed that West Virginia ranked #1 in drug overdose deaths in 2015, with a rate of 41.5 deaths per 100,000 people. Deaths attributed to opioids, namely heroin and fentanyl are on the rise in the state. Additionally, West Virginia currently ranks #1 in the incidence of acute hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Analysis of 2012-2015 surveillance data showed that between 25-40% of acute hepatitis C cases reported injection drug use as a potential risk factor for their infection. A recent study identified 28 counties in West Virginia as high risk for rapid disseminated of HIV and hepatitis C among PWIDs. Increasing access to HRPs in high-risk areas can reduce new viral hepatitis and HIV cases by decreasing the sharing of syringes and other injection equipment.
In addition to syringe exchange, HRPs may include the following services:
- Distribution of disease prevention material (e.g. alcohol swabs, condoms)
- Distribution of educational material related to substance abuse
- Distribution of educational material related to prevention of HIV and other sexually-transmitted
- Referral to substance abuse disorder treatment programs
- Counseling and testing for HIV and/or hepatitis C
- Screening for tuberculosis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and/or HIV
- Linkage to HIV care