The Biden administration will spend $1 million next year to fund a study on how to train drug addicts to distribute COVID-19 rapid tests to other drug addicts.
The project summary emphasizes that “people who inject drugs” are especially vulnerable to the outbreak of COVID-19 due to “structural disadvantage, health vulnerabilities, and stigmatization that prevents adequate access to medical care.” This issue will be addressed through a “facilitation of rapid testing by people who inject drugs (PWID) via a supported employment program that trains PWID as peer health workers.”
The study, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and conducted by the University of Oregon, began on December 1 and will last roughly two years. Efforts to distribute COVID tests to drug-infested communities have been studied before, the summary notes, but more information on rapid test distribution is needed.
“Rapid tests may offer an advantage over PCR tests for PWID experiencing structural vulnerabilities such as houselessness and lack of access to technology so that they can receive results in real-time and be quickly connected to needed resources,” the summary said.
The NIH funds are part of a larger “harm reduction” effort from the Biden administration that focuses on reducing risks associated with drug use instead of reducing drug use itself. The NIH funded another study this year that placed harm reduction vending machines in rural Kentucky that contain drug paraphernalia.
The Department of Health and Human Services launched the first federal harm reduction program this year, which provides $30 million in grants to help distribute drug paraphernalia. The program includes funding for “smoking kits,” which often include crack pipes. The agency, however, said pipes are banned in its program, which it emphasized in meetings with each grant recipient.