Program Adaptations to Provide Harm Reduction Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study of Syringe Services Programs in the U.S.

Madeline C. Frost, Elsa W. Sweek, Elizabeth J. Austin, Maria A. Corcorran, Alexa M. Juarez, Noah D. Frank, Stephanie M. Prohaska, Paul A. LaKosky, Alice K. Asher, Dita Broz, Don C.Des Jarlais, Emily C. Williams, Sara N. Glick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Syringe services programs (SSPs) are essential to preventing injection drug use-related infections and overdose death among people who use drugs (PWUD). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic initially impeded SSPs’ operations. To effectively support these programs, information is needed regarding SSPs’ experiences adapting their services and the challenges posed by COVID-19. We conducted qualitative interviews with leadership and staff from a sample of 31 U.S. SSPs. Respondents discussed urgent concerns including reduced reach of services, suspended HIV/hepatitis C testing, high COVID-19 risk among PWUD, and negative impacts of isolation on overdose and mental health. They also noted opportunities to improve future services for PWUD, including shifting to evidence-based distribution practices and maintaining regulatory changes that increased access to opioid use disorder medications post-pandemic. Findings can inform efforts to support SSPs in restoring and expanding services, and provide insight into SSPs’ role in engaging PWUD during the COVID-19 response and future emergencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAIDS and Behavior
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Syringe exchange
  • Syringe services programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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