The Department of Health and Human Services is cancelling a funding opportunity for needle exchange programs because the grants would appear to violate state law.
Last month, DHHS put out a request for proposal to award money to syringe service programs to develop the infrastructure necessary to expand operations. This week, though, it scrapped the proposal. In a statement, the agency cited the “self-funded” language, but didn’t clarify why it issued an RFP that appears to bump up against state law.
Advocates say the programs helps combat the spread of disease including HIV and Hepatitis by giving clean needles at no cost to injection drug users, who can remain anonymous. Providers also collect used syringes, and offer access to testing or rehabilitation services.
“I think in the state of New Hampshire, if we want to see more people in recovery, this is a really important intervention that we all have to get behind,” says Kerry Nolte, vice chair of New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition, and medical coordinator for Hand Up Health Service, a Seacoast-based group that offers clean syringes as well as other services for people living with addiction.
According to the RFP released on May 18th by DHHS, the state was given permission by the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, to redirect existing federal funds meant to prevent the spread of HIV to develop more syringe services programs. The ongoing opioid epidemic increases the risk for an outbreak of diseases as people living with addiction may reuse needles.
Currently, there are only two syringe service programs in the state: Hand Up, which services clients on the Seacoast, and a program run by the city of Nashua.
The state’s first needle exchange program opened in Claremont and was operated by students from Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. However, the program was shut down because of its proximity to a local school.