Conducting a community needs assessment first, can help dispel concerns about a syringe services program and build a case for why such a program is needed. The Harm Reduction Coalition has useful information for conducting such an assessment. Local public health clinic leadership can also help or contact your state’s harm reduction coalition. First, however, review your state’s law on syringe services programs before doing anything as state law may mandate the specific items to include in a community needs assessment.
Questions to ask in a community needs assessment may include:
- What is the rate of injection drug use in your community? Contact your state or county health department. Although this information may be difficult to obtain so examine other data such as injection drug use related arrests, overdose deaths, or treatment admissions.
- What is the rate of HIV and Viral Hepatitis in your area? Contact your state or county health department. In addition, if the state has made a request for federal syringe service program funding to the CDC, they will have information on injection drug use and HIV/HCV in your community. Also check with your county to see if it is on the CDC’s list of vulnerable counties for HIV/HCV outbreaks. Another potential source of information is checking with researchers in public health departments in your state university.
- Where do people who inject drugs congregate? Reach out to homeless shelters, substance use disorder treatment centers, individuals in recovery, or other harm reduction advocates.
- What zoning restrictions exist in my community that could limit siting of a needle exchange? Check your local zoning ordinances to see if they limit the number or location of syringe exchange programs. This has been an ongoing issue with siting of methadone clinics in some areas. Working with an existing public health clinic can help mitigate objections to a new facility. Objections to siting a needle exchange may include the concern that a needle exchange will increase crime, however there is no evidence to support this.
- Are health care resources available in the area to treat both substance use disorders and infectious disease? SAMHSA has a physician locator for doctors eligible to prescribe buprenorphine. SAMHSA also has a broader treatment locator to help identify mental health and substance use disorder treatment availability in an area.