The first meeting of the Syringe Services Program Standing Advisory Committee was held Wednesday at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) headquarters.
Syringe services programs provide people suffering from addiction with clean needles and linkages to treatment, counseling, and education services. A recent law expanded authorization for these programs to operate across the state.
The Advisory Committee, Chaired by Deputy Secretary for Public Health Dr. Howard Haft, is charged with providing consultation to DHMH on regulations guiding implementation of Syringe Services Programs as well as providing technical assistance to programs on developing operating procedures, community outreach and education plans, and a protocol for linking program participants to substance-related disorder treatment and recovery services.
A broad range of stakeholders serve on the Advisory Committee including individuals experienced in the prevention of HIV and viral hepatitis, individuals with syringe exchange programs; individuals with substance use experience; health care practitioners; law enforcement; local health officers; family members of injection drug users; and academics among others. MACo is represented on the Advisory Committee by Associate Director Natasha Mehu.
The meeting included a review of the legislative history of syringe services programs in Maryland; a briefing on DHMH overdose and response data; a review of draft regulations for syringe services programs; and an overview of the roles and responsibilities for the Advisory Committee moving forward.
Earlier this year the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed into law SB 97 Public Health – Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Programs which authorized syringe service programs. It created a comprehensive, public health-based structure governing the authorization, qualifications, and operating requirements for individual programs. It also set requirements for programs to provide linkage to drug counseling, treatment and recovery services; testing for HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases; HIV and viral hepatitis education; overdose prevention education and access to or referrals to obtain naloxone. The Syringe Services Program Standing Advisory Committee is a component of. MACo supported this bill with amendments to the “local option” authority. A MACo representative was added to the Standing Advisory Committee to help give local governments a voice in the oversight of the programs.
The Advisory Committee will meet quarterly with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for mid to late January.
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