The Howard County Health Department recently expanded mobile harm reduction services for programs including HIV testing, Narcan training and safe sex supplies.
A modified recreational vehicle will be located in the Howard County Health Department parking lot in Columbia and is staffed by multiple peer support specialists from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
According to Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman, the goal for the RV, which opened Nov. 10, is to provide several different services in a “low-barrier setting” — something that’s even more important during the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Rossman said in a news release.
The county health department’s harm reduction services include a wide variety of strategies that include safer use of drugs and training, with the main goal of saving lives.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who participate in harm reduction programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs and three times more likely to stop using drugs.
“The goal is to combat the continuing problem of the opioid epidemic, as well as the fatal and nonfatal overdoses, which continue to be a problem,” said Lisa Morrel, recovery support and harm reduction supervisor for the county health department. “We want to lower the risk of infection from disease for those who do still continue to engage in risky behaviors, but the statistics show participants are less likely to. It’s a public health approach that makes sense for our community.”
Following a drop in opioid-related deaths from 2018 to 2019, Howard County has seen an increase in overdose deaths in 2020. As of Dec. 15, the county had recorded 33 overdose deaths compared to 28 in 2019.
“The mobile harm reduction RV is another bold step in the right direction to support substance misuse response throughout Howard County,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a news release. “This past year, we’ve seen our numbers of substance misuse overdoses and fatalities slip in the wrong direction, and we must work together to reduce the stigma and support our family, friends and loved ones in recovery.”
Aaron Hall, a peer support specialist who works in the RV, hopes more people start utilizing the services in the vehicle.
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“With any person who comes up, we offer sterile equipment, safe sex supplies and information on different services available, like HIV testing and treatments if someone tests positive,” Hall said. “We want to give people information and help them in any way we can.”
One of the services provided at the RV is overdose response training, and the vehicle’s Narcan kits include the medicine naxolone, which is used to reverse an opioid overdose.
“We’ve had people come who aren’t drug users themselves but have people in their lives who are,” Morrel said. “They stop by to get the training and the Narcan kits as a preventative public health approach. ... The more we can get this out to the community, the safer Howard County will be.”
Morrel said the RV will remain in the health department parking lot at 8930 Stanford Blvd. in Columbia for now, but she hopes in the future it can visit different places in the county to increase its reach.
The full list of services at the RV are:
HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections testing and support services
Narcan/overdose response training and kits
Safe sex supplies
Peer support staff access
Harm reduction kits/safer use supplies
Referrals to medical services/social service agencies