Prevention Point Pittsburgh on Feb. 3, calling for a change to state law on syringe access programs. Pennsylvania currently prohibits most syringe exchanges, like the Oakland harm-reduction nonprofit they visited, in most of the commonwealth.
“In Pennsylvania, we have the third highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country and the ninth highest rate of new HIV infections,” says Klinepeter. “We gotta turn this around. That’s why we need to use every tool in our disposal, and we need to work to expand access to programs such as syringe services across the commonwealth.”
Prevention Point Pittsburgh provides evidence-based harm reduction services for people who use drugs, including syringe services programs (SSPs), which provide access to clean syringes and other medical supplies, disposal of needles, as well as referrals to drug treatment, disease testing, and other health services. SSPs are proven to reduce the risk of transmission of blood-bourne pathogens like HIV and can also reduce overdose rates if they offer opioid antagonists like naloxone, as Prevention Point Pittsburgh’s does.
Prevention Point Executive Director Aaron Arnold says the organization has served Pittsburgh since 1995 and currently operates their syringe services program in five sites across the city. Arnold says the pandemic has brought a “huge increase in the need for the services we provide.” Prevention Point gave out about 600,000 syringes in 2019, Arnold says, and 1.4 million in 2021.
“This is about public safety and keeping people safe,” Gainey said at a press conference after the tour. “These are the [syringes] that if we didn’t have somewhere safe, they would be on the ground.” When asked if he would support a supervised injection site, another harm reduction intervention for people who inject drugs, in Pittsburgh, Gainey said yes.
The federal government is offering funding for syringe exchange programs, says Innamorato, but Pennsylvania can’t access it because state law currently considers syringes felony drug paraphernalia. This law applies to all parts of the state without a municipal health authority.
Syringe exchanges are legal in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with the permission of their county Health Departments. Innamorato and a Republican co-sponsor have introduced legislation to allow for SSPs in communities statewide.