2020 in review: Harm Reduction policy

AIDS United’s policy team is dedicated to building and strengthening relationships that elevate the importance of and support for harm reduction within the HIV community and among our federal, state and local governmental partners. We cannot end the HIV epidemic in the United States without also ending the overdose and viral hepatitis syndemics as well, and AIDS United’s harm reduction work is guided by that truth.

Our work is centered around the cultivation of relationships with lawmakers, public health officials, and harm reduction advocates and providers to ensure that the needs of people who use drugs are met and that best public health practices are implemented.

AIDS United’s policy team spent considerable time in 2020 engaging in outreach with members of Congress and administration officials in Washington, D.C., educating them on issues related to drug user health and fighting for support and funding for syringe services programs, access to medication-assisted treatment, overdose consumption sites and other harm-reduction measures.

The AIDS United policy team also continued our work with the program department to help run the Syringe Access Fund, particularly as it concerned policy and logistical support for advocacy-focused grantees. Thanks in part to our work with the Oklahoma Harm Reduction Alliance and the Indiana Recovery Alliance, those organizations were able to lead the charge for legalization and reauthorization of syringe services programs in their respective states. We also worked with the capacity building assistance team to put on two Midwest Syringe Services Program Institutes where health department officials, community-based organizations and harm-reduction advocates from all across the Midwest came together to share lessons learned and best practices from their work and to discuss how to address the impact of COVID-19 on people who use drugs.

Additionally, the policy team continued in its leadership of the Coalition for Syringe Access, an organization of stakeholders from all across the country dedicated to promoting the adoption & success of syringe services programs and harm reduction initiatives to end the overdose, HIV and viral hepatitis syndemics in the US. In 2020, AIDS United oversaw the shifting of Coalition for Syringe Access policy priorities to better reflect the needs of state and local harm-reduction organizations while also maintaining continuity with federal syringe services programs’ advocacy efforts. An example of this reorientation was a project led by AIDS United and NASTAD that resulted in the creation of a set of winterization best practices documents for syringe services programs during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health and well-being of syringe services programs’ staff and the people who use drugs that they serve.