Americans who struggle with drug addiction have turned to syringe services programs (SSPs) for decades—not only to exchange used needles for clean ones but also as a first step towards treatment. Avoiding reusing needles reduces the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. But the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for participants to get clean needles as sites shut down or reduce their operating hours.

In a pre-COVID world, many of these programs provided a safe place for drug users to gather and build trusting relationships that can pave the way to treatment. With social distancing restrictions in place, it’s harder for clients—who include low-income and homeless people—to feel connected to what may be the closest thing they have to a primary care doctor. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that new users of SSPs are “five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.”

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