States Pursue Strategies to Address Infectious Disease Related to the Opioid Epidemic

Priorities Include Expanding Access to Syringe Services Programs and Using Data to Target High-Risk Communities

With viral infections attributable to injection drug use on the rise, the National Governors Association has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ChangeLab Solutions to share best practices and lessons learned from Kentucky, the first Southern state to authorize harm reduction and syringe services.

Since 2010, the hepatitis C virus has been spreading at an alarming rate, along with an increase in other infections due to injection drug use. Reported cases of hepatitis C increased 350 percent between 2010 and 2016, driven by injection drug use, with the most significant increases occurring among young adults. The longstanding decline in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnoses among people who inject drugs has slowed; now, 10 percent of new HIV infections occur among people who inject drugs.

To address this public health challenge, NGA brought Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Michigan, Utah, Virginia and Washington to learn from Kentucky, where harm reduction and syringe services have been approved in 60 of the 120 counties. NGA Health worked with cross-disciplinary teams from the seven states to build on lessons learned from Kentucky in developing strategic plans to address the infectious disease consequences of the opioid epidemic.

After working with these eight states over the past year, NGA Health issued two publications that highlight key considerations for governors on how to address the spread of infectious disease which include: building strong cross-agency partnerships; supporting local communities with funding, data and technical assistance; and engaging a broad group of stakeholders.

“Kentucky continues to play a lead role in combatting the opioid epidemic by utilizing a comprehensive, collaborative and evidence-based response,” said Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. “Our harm-reduction program allows the state to provide technical support and expertise to our local partners, who, in turn, establish programs best suited for their respective areas. This approach has empowered communities across Kentucky to create new programs that successfully prevent the spread of infectious diseases and connect people to much-needed treatment.”

The publications can be viewed here.