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Frost MC, Sweek EW, Austin EJ, Corcorran MA, Juarez AM, Frank ND, Prohaska SM, LaKosky PA, Asher AK, Broz D, Jarlais DCD, Williams EC, Glick SN. Program Adaptations to Provide Harm Reduction Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study of Syringe Services Programs in the U.S. AIDS and behavior. 2022 Jan 1; 26(1):57-68.
Syringe services programs (SSPs) are essential to preventing injection drug use-related infections and overdose death among people who use drugs (PWUD). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic initially impeded SSPs' operations. To effectively support these programs, information is needed regarding SSPs' experiences adapting their services and the challenges posed by COVID-19. We conducted qualitative interviews with leadership and staff from a sample of 31 U.S. SSPs. Respondents discussed urgent concerns including reduced reach of services, suspended HIV/hepatitis C testing, high COVID-19 risk among PWUD, and negative impacts of isolation on overdose and mental health. They also noted opportunities to improve future services for PWUD, including shifting to evidence-based distribution practices and maintaining regulatory changes that increased access to opioid use disorder medications post-pandemic. Findings can inform efforts to support SSPs in restoring and expanding services, and provide insight into SSPs' role in engaging PWUD during the COVID-19 response and future emergencies.