New York City’s syringe service programs (SSPs) are successfully getting harm reduction resources into the hands of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, according to new data released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).
In 2018, more than three quarters of SSP participants were people of color (49 percent Latinx, 29 percent Black, 2 percent Asian) and more than two thirds were from neighborhoods with “high” or “very high” rates of poverty.
As heroin-involved overdose deaths decline for many demographics in the city, Black New Yorkers and folks living in neighborhoods with “very high” poverty rates are facing some of the fastest-growing mortality rates.
“We are thrilled that Black and Latinx New Yorkers are utilizing services in high numbers, but [they] have since SSPs opened,” said Dr. Denise Paone, the director of Research and Surveillance in DOHMH’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use. “SSPs center the needs of people who use drugs in the neighborhoods they operate because most people utilize the SSPs that are closest to them. [Peer Delivered Syringe Exchange] helps reach people who may be harder to reach by SSPs.”
With more than half of participants accessing naloxone and individual health education, the city’s SSPs seem to be making strides in reaching the people most in need. SSPs also offer supplies including cotton, cookers, antiseptic wipes, adhesive bandages, as well as safer sex supplies including condoms, lubricant and dental dams.
Map of waivered syringe service program locations by United Hospital Fund Neighborhood and site type, 2018 (Graphic designed by DOHMH, data sourced from NYS Department of Health AIDS Institute)
In age terms, people between the ages of 35 and 54—who suffer the highest rates of overdose deaths, at 29.7 per 100,000 residents—were most represented amongst SSP participants. People aged from 55-84 were the least serviced. Reaching this older population could be one area for improvement, given that people in that range were the only New York age-group that saw a rise in heroin-involved overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017.
Between 2008 and 2018, New York City has greatly expanded harm reduction services. The number of sterile syringes distributed rose by 127 percent in that time—from 1.98 million to 4.5 million. In 2018, SSPs provided syringes to more than 18,000 New Yorkers. They provided other health services to nearly 17,000.
Paone considers the DOHMH “numbers [to be] reflect[ive of] our commitment to funding programs that reduce harms associated with drug misuse.” For her, “Syringe service providers are on the front lines of the response to the overdose epidemic and they are saving lives every day. Over decades it is now practically impossible to quantify how many new infections of HIV and hepatitis C, and other blood-borne viruses have been prevented. Syringe service providers’ impact on the lives of New Yorkers is awe-inspiring.”