SAMHSA offers $30M in grants to boost harm reduction strategies to curb opioid abuse

The Biden administration is doling out $30 million in unprecedented grants aimed at harm reduction strategies to combat opioid abuse, including funding for needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips.

But Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said the funding won’t be used for supervised injection sites, which have been the subject of legal battles across the country.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced Wednesday it is accepting applications for the harm reduction grant program, including from primary care and other types of providers. The announcement comes more than a month after recent data showed more than 100,000 people died of a drug overdose over a 12-month period.

“Our new HHS overdose prevention strategy is clear: harm reduction services are critical to keeping people alive,” Becerra said during a call with reporters Wednesday announcing the grant funding amid other strategies.

Organizations that can apply for the grants include state and local governments and community-based organizations as well as primary and behavioral health organizations.

The organizations can expand prevention programs to include strategies such as “overdose reversal medications and fentanyl test strips, providing overdose education and counseling and managing or expanding syringe service programs.”

But Becerra pushed back on whether the funding can be used on supervised injection sites, a controversial method that has sparked legal challenges in some parts of the country. He said the reason is the agency wanted to focus on more evidence-based strategies.

“We want to be able to see that in real-world settings,” he said. “I hope we have more detail in the future.”

New York City announced last month it has opened the first supervised injection site while federal judges have blocked a similar site in Philadelphia.