Department of Health’s Drug User Health program offers clean (and safer) needles

Since 1992, Washington State has funded syringe service programs to prevent transmission of infectious diseases like HIV. Syringe service programs currently operate in 18 counties across the state and at least 40 states across the country. Syringe service programs are a critical component in the care continuum, providing a gateway to healthcare for people who might not access services anywhere else.


What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction is a pragmatic and nonjudgmental approach to addressing the negative impacts associated with drug use. Policies and services that acknowledge the human rights of people who use drugs are key. Harm reduction services include access to sterile syringes to reduce risk of exposure to blood-borne infections, testing for hepatitis C and HIV, and referrals to medical care, in addition to counseling, health education, and other services.

The slogan “meet people where they are” means recognizing, for a variety of reasons, people who use drugs may not quit using right away or perhaps ever. Harm reduction programs encourage individuals to identify their own goals at a pace that works for them, and offer strategies to support their health and wellbeing along the way.

What happens when people do want to stop using drugs? According to a 2017 survey by the University of Washington, more than three out of four syringe service program participants using heroin expressed interest in reducing or ceasing their drug use. Stopping drug use is often a long process, and harm reduction programs serve as a compassionate stop along the continuum.

Harm reduction may not be intuitive to everyone. But we all expect cars to come equipped with seat belts, bleach to come packaged with a warning label, and condoms to be available at the pharmacy. To decrease risk, safety precautions are provided without stigma or shame.

Divided into 9 regions, Washington State has implemented the accountable community of health model to align resources to improve health equity.

If you or someone you know could benefit from access to sterile syringes or other harm reduction services, please see the directory of programs in Washington state.

Department of Health’s Drug User Health team works collaboratively to support programs that address infectious disease among people who use drugs by cultivating trusting relationships with diverse communities of drug users adversely affected by Hepatitis, HIV, and STDs.

  – Washington State Department of Health