Rhode Island's Only Syringe Exchange Loses Major Funding Source

By McCarton Ackerman 09/19/16

The ENCORE program distributed nearly 60,000 syringes in 2015 alone.

Rhode Island's Only Syringe Exchange Loses Major Funding Source
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The only syringe exchange program in Rhode Island will be down $65,000 next year after losing a significant source of funding, potentially affecting thousands of people throughout the state.

AIDS Care Ocean State (ACOS) offers "comprehensive, holistic, resources and harm reduction services, including syringe exchange, drop off and disposal for intravenous drug users." ACOS officials said last week that the Rhode Island General Assembly chose not to renew its $65,000 legislative grant with the program known as ENCORE (Education, Needle Exchange, Counseling, Outreach, and Referral). The grant was 60% of the organization's 2017 funding.

According to the Providence Journal, the $65,000 funding was to go toward the purchase of the nearly 60,000 syringes that the program distributes each year. The funding would have also gone toward purchasing naloxone, the overdose antidote, as well as the disposal of more than 40,000 used alcohol swabs, band-aids and syringes. 

A press release from ACOS said it has reached out to elected officials and urged them "to reconsider, reallocate and rededicate the necessary funding to ensure this program is able to continue without an interruption in ENCORE’s funding stream to ensure we are not putting members of our most vulnerable communities at risk." But despite the organization's efforts, ACOS noted that “none of these officials have responded to validate our concerns and recognize what a significant loss this will be to our community."

However, the program may not be forced to shut down entirely. The press release stated that other possible sources of funding for ACOS are being looked into by the state Medicaid office, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the state Department of Health.

Despite being the smallest state in the nation, Rhode Island has big issues when it comes to addiction. Last year’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the Ocean State was at the top of the list in consumption of illegal drugs, with 4.3% of residents reporting using in the month prior to the survey. Rhode Islanders also used marijuana at greater rates than anywhere else in the country, with 14% of residents over age 12 using marijuana in the past month.

In response to the survey, the state's Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) made plans to use a “Partnership for Success” grant to go toward prevention and education.

“If the perceived risk goes down, the use goes up,” said Rebecca Boss, deputy director of BHDDH. "We are trying to be proactive and get ahead of this. We think we have programs in place that may not have an immediate impact, but [will] in years to come.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.