‘Harm reduction program’ in Palm Springs will provide services — including a needle exchange — for those living with addiction

A multi-layered program focused on education and disease testing, in addition to offering needle exchange services, will be unveiled in Palm Springs after receiving approval from the California Department of Public Health earlier this month.

The program, administered by DAP Health, aims to assist those in the community battling addiction. It will be the second program of its type in Riverside County.

“We have a mobile clinic that will go around the city of Palm Springs 24 hours a week,” CJ Tobe, DAP Health’s director of community health and sexual wellness, told the CV Independent. “Participants will be bringing in their used drug equipment, including their syringes or their points, and giving them to us to properly dispose.”

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Needle exchange programs have proven controversial in many communities where they are offered. Still, they are vital, Tobe said, in making connections with those battling addiction. Those connections are essential to assuring other services provided through the “harm reduction program” are utilized.

“It’s not just, ‘You give us your used equipment, and we give you new equipment,’” Tobe said. “It’s, ‘Well, what else do you need help with today? Do you need housing? Do you need to talk to a housing case manager? Do you need food? What about medical care? When was the last time you had your blood sugar or blood pressure checked? Do you see a primary-care doctor?’”

Through the program, DAP Health will also distribute Naloxone/Narcan to reverse an overdose and prevent death and Fentanyl test strips for testing drugs before use to decrease the likelihood of overdose.

There is no doubt about the need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses during the 12-month period from April 2020 through April 2021. In Riverside County, there has been an 800% increase in fentanyl-related deaths since 2016.

In Palm Springs, it’s estimated that the overdose death rate is 300% higher than the state average. More than 20% of the people interviewed on city streets during the 2020 point-in-time count of homeless individuals reported being addicted to drugs.

“It’s important to remember the dynamics that go into a program like this,” Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills said. “That’s what excites me. Not only is DAP Health looking at helping people, but genuinely helping people so they are not destructive to themselves or our community.”

Issues involving the homeless in South Palm Springs, many of them seen using drugs and disposing of needles, have been reported for years. Residents of the city, Downtown landlords, and business owners have expressed anger and frustration, often to no avail.

Tobe acknowledged the stigma around addiction could lead many to reject the idea of programs aimed at helping addicts. But, he said, the science surrounding programs such as the one DAP Health is launching is sound.

“We will do this without stigma or judgment because you cannot treat someone who does not trust you,” he said in a prepared statement released Tuesday. “Harm reduction is an important tactic in DAP Health’s ongoing work to end the HIV epidemic. Work that begins with meeting folks where they are.”

More information: Through the program, DAP Health is providing a phone number (760-992-0453) and email address ([email protected]) for community members to report used syringes or other drug paraphernalia.

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