Programs that provide overdose prevention and syringe access are serving more people and potentially saving more lives, according to the 2020-2021 North Carolina Safer Syringe Initiative Annual Report released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
This report highlights the work that syringe services programs (SSPs) are doing across the state. The SSPs have responded to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, increases in overdoses and other challenges. Supporting SSPs is a key priority included in both the NC Opioid and Substance Use Action Plan and the NCDHHS strategic plan.
SSPs are an evidence-based strategy to reduce overdose deaths, reduce transmission of diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV), and connect participants to treatment and care. SSPs provide a variety of social and health services for people with substance use disorder, often serving as the primary avenue to meet their health needs. SSPs have been at the frontlines of addressing the intersecting epidemics of overdose and infectious disease by scaling up their naloxone distribution, expanding the reach and scope of their programs and helping participants access COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
In the 2020-2021 reporting period, there were 42 registered SSPs serving residents from 83 counties and one federally recognized tribe in North Carolina. Programs received reports of 12,392 overdoses that were reversed with the life-saving medication, naloxone; this is an increase of more than 43% from the previous year. These programs also:
- Served more than 26,500 people, an increase of 73% from the previous year
- Provided participants with a total of 1,973 referrals to substance use treatment
- Distributed more than 8 million sterile syringes, and more than 89,500 naloxone kits were distributed across the state
- Administered more than 3,000 HIV and Hepatitis C tests
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve lost ground in our fight against opioids,” said Kody H. Kinsley, NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Health. “Focusing on interventions that meet people where they are and connecting them to care is key to regaining ground and saving lives.”
“The United States and North Carolina are seeing heartbreaking increases in overdose deaths, making these programs even more important,” said Dr. Elyse Powell, the State Opioid Coordinator. “We need to double down on what works to prevent overdoses, and COVID-19 has demonstrated that Syringe Services Programs offer essential services for preventing overdose deaths and connecting people to much needed care.”
Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show between April 2020 and April 2021, overdose deaths in the U.S. surpassed 100,000, which was a 28.5% increase from the previous year.
Since the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency, NCDHHS has provided more than 230,000 doses of naloxone directly to all registered SSPs across the state.
For more information and to view the North Carolina Safer Syringe Initiative Annual Report, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/north-carolina-safer-syringe-initiative.