There is a very real opportunity for philanthropy to save lives by supporting programs that prevent overdoses and the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C and to provide a more stable environment through housing programs and legal support. These approaches can and often do provide a gateway to care and to a more complete recovery. By meeting SUD patients where they are and treating them with dignity regardless of their recovery status, these programs can provide links to care and a point of human connection for some of the most vulnerable and isolated people with SUDs.
Prevent deaths from heroin & painkiller overdose
Naloxone is a proven and effective medication to reverse overdose, either through injection or nasal spray. A single kit can cost as little as $12, and an average of 50-100 kits distributed will save a life. However, funding gaps and restrictive policies keep naloxone out of the hands of many who would benefit from it. Philanthropy can fill a much-needed gap in funding direct service and advocacy for community naloxone distribution programs.
Prevent the transmission of HIV & Hepatitis C and keep the door open for recovery
Re-using needles facilitates the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C. To reduce needle re-use, clean syringe programs collect used syringes and dispense clean ones in a non-judgmental setting, often alongside other services such as wound treatment, general health care, or simply the use of the site as a mailing address. The provision of these services, based on requests from drug users themselves, ensures client retention while keeping the door open to a fuller recovery. Many sites also offer case management services and referrals to treatment for their clients. Contrary to popular myth, extensive research from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and numerous other sources has definitively concluded that clean syringe programs do not increase drug use or crime. In addition, every dollar spent on clean syringe programs is estimated to save three dollars in future HIV treatment costs, which are often borne by taxpayers. Philanthropy can fill the gap in funding for such programs, which, despite their efficacy, are currently prohibited from receiving federal funds.
Combat SUD-related homelessness
Supportive housing programs provide housing and case management to chronically homeless individuals, many of whom suffer from SUDs and other mental illnesses. A subset of these programs known as “Housing First” provides these services permanently whether or not clients are maintaining sobriety. These programs work to reduce homelessness among people with SUDs. For example, a New York City implementation where 90% of participants had an SUD (often with another co-occurring mental health issue) was still able to keep over 80% of participants stably housed after two years, a clear and meaningful improvement in quality of life. In addition, supportive housing is associated with other indicators of reduced SUD severity such as lower use of detox and emergency medicine services. From a societal perspective, the cost of providing permanent housing can be offset by the reduction in use of other public services like shelters, emergency rooms, and jails.
Help SUD patients with co-occurring mental illnesses stay housed and financially stable
Tasks like negotiating with health insurance providers, overturning wrongful denial of public benefits, or contesting an unlawful eviction can be daunting for anyone. It’s even more difficult for people with SUDs and co-occurring mental health issues, and the consequences of failing to manage those tasks can be severe. Unmet need for health care, loss of housing, and financial difficulties can together cause stress and instability that exacerbate mental health issues and create barriers to recovery. Collaborative models called “Medical-Legal Partnerships” use civil legal services to address these and other concerns for patients whose medical progress might be undermined by legal circumstances. Once again, such assistance is compelling given the resulting savings from the reduced costs of emergency services.