Grant program boosts effort to stop spread of diseases in Nashua

Thanks to a generous donation from the Syringe Access Fund, the Syringe Service Alliance of the Nashua Area is able to implement its plan to decrease the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases through used syringes.

The Syringe Access Fund is a national grant making initiative that supports service providers and policy projects to reduce the risk of HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne pathogens among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners through expanded access to sterile syringes. Established in 2004, the Syringe Access Fund is a collaborative grant making initiative comprised of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Levi Strauss Foundation, Open Society Foundations, H. Van Ameringen Fund, and AIDS United.

The Syringe Service Alliance of the Nashua Area (SSANA) is a syringe services program operating in the Greater Nashua area, as a collaboration between the Southern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force, Nashua Department of Public Health, Revive Recovery and several others. With the help of the Syringe Access Fund, the program was introduced in February, after the State of New Hampshire legalized syringe service programs (SSPs) in June 2017, and is the only program of its kind in the region.

The goal of the program is to limit the spread of communicable diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, as well as injection related infections through used syringes. In addition, SSANA is providing “sharps” containers and is collecting used syringes so that they can be properly disposed. This will lead to significantly less used syringes in the community.

Alongside these original goals, other benefits from this program have been realized. A person who injects drugs is five times more likely to enter treatment when using an SSP, and in 2015 there were 3,600 less HIV diagnoses among persons who inject drugs. In the first two months of operation, SSANA distributed over 2,000 sterile syringes to approximately 100 clients.

“SSANA brings hope and support to people who inject drugs, while decreasing the potential for another threat to the public’s health through disease prevention,” said Bobbie Bagley, Nashua Health Department director. “We are very encouraged with the results we are seeing in the implementation of the syringe services program as a harm reduction program the Nashua area.”

In addition to providing sterile needles, syringes, and other injection equipment, SSANA provides HIV and hepatitis C testing with linkage to treatment, along with tools to prevent infection, overdose prevention education, and referrals to medical, mental health and social services. SSANA, as well as other syringe service programs around the country do not lead to more drug use or crime, but rather to decreased cases of diseases spreading and increased rates of those willing to enter treatment.

New Hampshire is “ground zero” for opioids, third in the nation for opioid related deaths per capita, and holds the number one position for Fentanyl related deaths. SSANA is one of the ways the community is fighting back against this epidemic. In 2018, SSANA is poised to help over 250 community members, and replace over 100,000 used syringes.

SSANA, which mirrors the Spanish word ‘sana’ meaning healthy, is working to help vulnerable community members be safe and to stop the spread of dangerous diseases.

For more information on SSANA, call 816-0595. To request syringe services, call 1-978-743-9636.

The Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force is a nonprofit AIDS Service Organization that provides case management and supportive services, including access to medical care and medications, to individuals and families who are living with HIV/AIDS. The agency formally collaborates with five other nonprofits known collectively as the Partnership for Successful Living: Harbor Homes, Keystone Hall, Southern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force, Healthy-at-Home, Milford Regional Counseling Services, and the Welcoming Light Institute. The Partnership addresses the multi-faceted needs of mutual clients through integrated health care and social services programs, and the Task Force is able to offer unique, holistic approaches to care and prevention resulting in better outcomes for our clients and the community. This integrated services model aims to give clients seamless access to a comprehensive array of housing, health care, and supportive services. The Partnership for Successful Living has been recognized for its integrated health care and social services mode, currently serving thousands of New Hampshire residents annually. For more information, visit www.nhpartnership.org.