2 min read

Bringing Syringe Exchange (and more) out of the Darkness

Apr 9, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Mark Powell
Written by Mark Powell

J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert. Read more about Mark Powell.

PA blog Prevention Point  

Sometimes, helping draw attention to one issue can lead to addressing another. That’s precisely what happened with Prevention Point.

Its story started nearly 30 years ago. Back during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, a group called Act UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) wanted to direct attention to the disease and encourage more treatment for it. Activists discovered there was a 95% infection rate among IV drug users. So, Prevention Point began as an underground syringe exchange program in Philadelphia designed to help people stay well.

“Everything changed in 1992 when new Mayor Ed Rendell signed an executive order making syringe exchange legal in the city. Prevention Point grew from there,” says Dina Stonberg, a consultant who advises the organization. Prevention Point’s growth has been particularly rapid in recent years.

“Prevention Point now has over 100 employees,” she says. “Besides offering primary and specialty HIV/HCV care, its addiction-related services now include peer specialists, community education program, plus naloxone education and distribution.”

The welcome mat is out for anyone who walks in its doors in the Kensington neighborhood, she adds, regardless of where they live. In fact, one of Prevention Point’s features is an Engagement Center–a place where people are welcome to hang out, including the homeless. “We forget that even though someone doesn’t have a home, they still want to feel like a person and hang out with their friends.” That’s because Prevention Point’s approach is from a harm reduction perspective.

Even its location is important because Kensington is also home to the largest open-air drug market in America.

It offers regular case management and housing case management to assist participants to get into permanent housing. Its other programs include: Testing and Linkages program;

CRAFT – Coordinated Responses to Addiction by Facilitating Treatment, where 232 unique participants are assisted by two mentors who help with outreach and treatment; and STEP – the Stabilization Treatment and Engagement Program, an opioid-related addiction MAT treatment designed to help people stay in treatment and recovery. A streetside health clinic provides medical care to wounds. There’s also a police-assisted diversion program.

“All these programs are available because many people will only come to Prevention Point for help,” Stonberg says. “Because they know the people who work there are deeply committed to helping them.”

And Prevention Point is very successful at reaching people. During the last fiscal year (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018), CRAFT had 232 participants and STEP had 263; 850 people were referred for drug services, and the organization took in 2.3 million syringes while giving out 2.9 million more to 12,780 participants.

“Harm reduction works,” Stonberg says in conclusion. “It’s the answer to the epidemic, working with people, meeting them where they are. Having compassion is the tenet of everything we do.”

Prevention Point was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.