White House pushes for more money for harm reduction in drug control strategy plan

The White House’s new National Drug Control Strategy for the first time called for an expansion of harm reduction such as syringe service programs and naloxone to combat drug overdoses. 

The strategy, released Thursday, calls for the removal of barriers to interventions such as the overdose antidote naloxone, which some states still have challenges accessing. 

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services,” according to a release from the White House. 

The strategy details several harm reduction strategies to champion, including working with addicts to transition toward services that help combat their addiction.

“Regular substance use is difficult to stop, even when negative consequences mount,” the strategy said. “These individuals are often caught between substance use that both fuels and impedes their daily life and a healthcare system that lacks the engagement to meet them where they are and fails to engage them in health and social services.”

Some of the harm reduction programs the White House wants to expand resources for include syringe services programs that provide sterile syringes for users along with other health and social services.

The strategy points to studies that have shown such sites can reduce infections like HIV or hepatitis C and can help people with opioid use disorder “enroll in substance use treatment and, over time, to reduce drug use and number of drug injections.”

The White House hopes to increase public resources for such programs, evaluate current approaches and offer recommendations to improve services. This includes federal funding to states and local partners. 

Another key pillar is to ensure organizations have enough naloxone. 

It calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to “address bottlenecks and increase state and local availability of naloxone, especially as distributed by harm reduction organizations and also including other supply chain concerns, such as pharmacies that do not carry naloxone or make it easily and discretely accessible to [people who use drugs].”

Government program payers and commercial plans should also consider broadening their coverage of harm reduction services, the strategy adds. For instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) enabled Medicaid coverage for harm reduction in New York. 

“Covered services through harm reduction programs could incorporate direct services, care coordination and managing transitions between different service providers,” the strategy said. 

States should include services and support that address social determinants of health like housing or transportation as a part of harm reduction services. The administration has made improving health equity a major priority, with CMS recently releasing its own action plan to do so. 

The strategy comes as the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that of the 41.1 million people who needed treatment for addiction, only 6.5% (2.7 million) actually got it.