The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) has put out a call for individuals to send a letter to their U.S. Representative calling for a $58 million line item for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support opioid harm reduction programs in the next emergency coronavirus pandemic relief package.

“During this time,” NVHR stresses, “it’s more important than ever to ensure that the harm reduction programs serving our most vulnerable community members have the resources they need to safely adapt and continue their lifesaving work amid COVID-19.”

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus. In its most severe form, the disease is characterized most principally by severe lung inflammation, which can be fatal, especially among seniors.

Harm reduction services for people with opioid use disorder (OUD) include syringe exchange programs for people who inject drugs (PWID) as well as medication-assisted treatment for OUD, including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.

Injection drug use is associated with hepatitis B and C virus (HBV and HCV) as well as HIV transmission. Harm reduction programs lower the risk of such viruses among PWID.

NVHR is also calling for a lift of the federal ban on the purchase of syringes for exchange programs with federal money.

“Harm reduction programs, despite operating on the frontlines of the Nation’s COVID-19 response and doing the important work to prevent overdoses and infectious diseases, have been left out of previous Congressional relief legislation,” the letter states. “With additional resources and the removal of the ban on the purchase of syringes, these programs can purchase supplies to keep their communities out of the hospital, by preventing overdose, abscesses, and the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, thereby reducing the strain on the health care system. Extra resources would also allow programs to adapt their practices amid the COVID-19 pandemic such as by providing services via mobile units and by purchasing additional personal protective, telehealth, and coronavirus screening equipment.”