Weill Cornell Medicine Receives HEAL Grant to Examine National Expansion of Harm Reduction Resources

Weill Cornell Medicine has been awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of NIH. To address the overdose crisis in the United States, NIH has established a research network that will test harm reduction strategies in different community settings to inform efforts to help save lives. HEAL-funded research is seeking scientific solutions to the national opioid crisis, which took 107,000 lives in the United States in 2021.

The harm reduction research network’s efforts build on existing harm reduction research, and represent the largest pool of funding from NIH to date to study harm-reduction strategies to address overdose deaths. The new harm reduction research network will include nine research projects and one coordinating center. Dr. Czarina Behrends, assistant professor of population health sciences, will be leading a study to examine factors that impact and inform national expansion and scale-up of mail-delivered harm reduction services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been record-high overdose deaths in the US and an increased risk for future injection-related HIV and hepatitis c (HCV) outbreaks. As a result, expanded access to syringes and naloxone has emerged as a critical need. NEXT Distro has addressed this resource gap by developing a community-based program that mails harm reduction supplies to people across the US. Through this project, Dr. Behrends’ will study preferences related to service delivery among people who use NEXT Distro services. The research team will also survey people who have not previously used mail-delivered services about whether they would use them if they were available.

“What has been really interesting about this program is that they are reaching populations typically not reached by syringe services programs, the gold standard location for obtaining syringes and naloxone,” said Dr. Behrends. “This program might be a good way of getting to people who are underserved, like younger people, and particularly stigmatized, such as women.”

By partnering with NEXT Distro, Dr. Behrends and her team aim to describe the policy barriers surrounding national expansion, conduct a national, longitudinal cohort study to examine predictors of uptake and long-term engagement in mail-based harm reduction services, and assess the add-on harm reduction and health services preferences of mail delivery clients. Researchers will disseminate the findings to policy stakeholders, potential adopters, and NEXT Distro affiliates. This work will inform on expansion and scale-up, improve engagement with current program users, and broaden service offerings.

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