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Drug use harm reduction programs get boost in federal funds

Following a surge of overdoses during the pandemic, Congress, for the first time, has appropriated funds specifically for programs that distribute clean syringes and other supplies meant to protect people who use them (Source: “Helping Drug Users Survive, Not Abstain: ‘Harm Reduction’ Gains Federal Support,” New York Times, June 27).

Such programs have long come under attack for enabling drug use, but President Biden has made expanding harm-reduction efforts one of his drug policy priorities — the first president to do so. The American Rescue Act includes $30 million specifically for evidence-based harm reduction services, the first time Congress has appropriated funds specifically for that purpose. The funding, while modest, is a victory for the programs, both symbolically and practically, as they often run on shoestring budgets.

Still, many elected officials and communities continue to resist equipping people with supplies for drug use, including the recent addition of test strips to check drugs for the presence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which shows up in most overdose deaths. Some also say that syringes from harm reduction programs end up littering neighborhoods or that the programs cause an increase in crime. Researchers dispute both claims.