The Howard County Health Department has introduced a new mobile RV to expand its Harm Reduction and Syringe Services programming. As opioid and other drug-related deaths continue to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, these services become more important to help save lives.

Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies that includes safer use, managed use, abstinence, meeting people who use drugs “where they’re at” in their own process and addressing conditions of use along with the use itself.

According to the CDC, new participants in Harm Reduction programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs and three times more likely to stop using substances than those individuals not enrolled in the program.

“Staffed by Peer Recovery Support Specialists, this forward-thinking approach to Harm Reduction will provide an array of much-needed services in a low-barrier setting that is even more needed in this time of COVID-19,” said Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman. “With the provision of these services, the Health Department hopes to lower overdose rates in the community, increase referrals to ancillary services and treatment programs, and offer methods to stay safe and lower risk of infection from disease for those continuing risky behaviors.”

Howard County has recorded 33 overdose deaths to date in 2020, after 29 lives were lost in 2019. This increase can be attributed to a number of factors aggravated by COVID-19, like disruptions in access to health care and services, social and economic stressors, and

isolation. The goal of this program is to connect with people out in the community to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and those that would benefit from these important services until they are ready to pursue treatment.

The services that will be available through the Harm Reductions Services Program include:

● HIV/Hepatitis & STI testing and support services

● Narcan/Overdose response training and kits

● Safe sex supplies

● Peer Support staff access

● Wound care

● Harm Reduction kits/safer use supplies

● Referrals to medical services/social service agencies

The mobile RV will be situated in the parking lot of the Health Department (Ascend One Building, 8930 Stanford Boulevard, Columbia) and staffed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. The Bureau of Behavioral Health is working to develop partnerships that will include bringing the RV into the Howard County community. Funding for this program provided by Maryland Department of Health Center for Harm Reduction Services/Prevention and Health Promotion Administration.