By Mark Powell
In 1994, the spread of HIV among injection drug users in Baltimore was exploding. Looking for a solution to reduce infections and save lives, the Baltimore City Health Department launched its Community Risk Reduction Services (CRRS).
Its mission is “to deliver free and confidential quality HIV prevention and harm reduction education and services in communities within Baltimore City.” Program services are delivered by a mobile van in dozens of locations throughout the city every week.
The program has operated one of the oldest syringe services programs in the country. As new challenges have emerged, leaders such as Dr. Pat Chaulk, Derrick Hunt, Jeff Long, and Lisa Parker have implemented innovative strategies to improve health among this hard-to-serve population.
Offering services that are free of judgment, CRRS has implemented an overdose response program, “Staying Alive,” that provides overdose reversal training and naloxone distribution to thousands of at-risk Baltimore residents. CRRS has also offered wound care, OB-Gyn check-ups, and connections to substance use disorder treatment for clients who are ready to stop using drugs.
By continue to do what’s working, this pioneering and effective program remains at the front line of public health after two and a half decades.
CRRS was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.