A center recently opened in Fargo, North Dakota to connect local residents to addiction treatment options and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
The new Harm Reduction Center (HRC) is overseen by Fargo Cass Public Health, the department that oversees the entirety of Cass County. The center is part of a new division created within the department to monitor the state’s targeted response to the opioid crisis and the Good Neighbor Project — a nonprofit organization that facilitates community outreach, provides naloxone training and establishes syringe exchange programs (SEPs).
In March 2017, North Dakota government officials passed Senate Bill 2320, which allows cities to establish SEPs to curb the effects of the opioid crisis. In September, the North Dakota Department of Health released a guide for implementing SEPs.
That same month, the Harm Reduction Coalition presented the benefits of opening SEPs in the state. The coalition noted that SEPs would not only increase naloxone distribution, but also provide a continuum of care for people with substance use disorders and options to connect them to medication-assisted treatment as well as testing for HIV and other infectious diseases.
Through the Good Neighbor Project, the state’s first needle exchange program opened in Mandan in early 2018.
Fargo city officials approved the Fargo Cass Public Health Good Neighbor Project Syringe Services Program in February 2018. The HRC opened three months ago and houses the only SEP in the city.
Another needle exchange program is located less than two miles from Fargo across the border in Moorhead, Minnesota.
One of HRC’s aims is to reduce the risk of infectious diseases — such as hepatitis C and HIV — that people may contract through intravenous drug use. The center offers sterile needles and other drug paraphernalia to local residents with substance use disorders. It also distributes opioid overdose reversal kits and other medical supplies. A Fargo Cass Public Health official announced this week that the HRC has distributed approximately 6,300 clean syringes so far.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 77 North Dakota residents died of a drug overdose in 2016. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 54 of those overdose deaths were opioid-related. Heroin was responsible for 12 of those fatalities while synthetic opioids were present in 15 cases.
HRC staff hope to build relationships with their clients in order to refer them to local clinics. The HRC may also reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse by keeping them in contact with public health officials.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s treatment locator, there are 15 healthcare providers within a 10-mile radius of Fargo that offer addiction treatment services, including two in Moorhead and one in Dilworth, Minnesota. Four of them offer drug detoxification.
An HRC representative stated that unlike other conventional addiction treatment approaches, the harm reduction model doesn’t require people to be clean before getting assistance — instead, it aims to help them use drugs safely, potentially reduce their drug use and connect them to treatment.
The Good Neighbor Project plans to open additional programs in more counties.