White House, SAMHSA Co-Host National Summit on Harm Reduction

On December 13, and December 16, 2021, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsored a two-day national summit on Harm Reduction in collaboration with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virtual summit, entitled: Field Views on Harm Reduction was a historic first for the federal government. A diverse group of partners and experts from the fields of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, recovery, and criminal justice from across organizations with a national, state, tribal or local focus participated. The summit underscored the value of lived experience by including people who use harm reduction services, as well as those in recovery. A key goal of the summit was to develop a harm reduction framework to help guide federal policies, programs, and practices.

In the wake of this historic summit, several follow-up activities are scheduled. First, a Steering Committee will be formed to provide expert guidance and synthesize the summit findings to identify the guiding principles and pillars that should define a harm reduction program. Second, a Review Committee will be formed to review and wrap up the findings to refine the harm reduction definition, principles, as well as SAMHSA’s supported strategies. After the two committees have reached a consensus on the draft guidance, the document will be shared for public comment. Once the guidance is finalized, the document will be released to the public.

During the convening, Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA, reiterated that primary prevention, recovery support, and evidence-based treatment can work synergistically with harm reduction – learning from one another to create a seamless continuum of care – with a focus on community and connection.

Dr. Delphin-Rittmon said all individuals inherently deserve services that promote health, regardless of whether they use drugs.

SAMHSA’s harm reduction efforts represent a key pillar in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Overdose Prevention Strategy and are aligned with the Biden-Harris Administration’s year one drug policy priorities. The summit comes on the heels of the recent notice of funding opportunity – $30 million for SAMHSA’s Harm Reduction Grant Funding Program. The grant program will distribute $10 million per year over the next three years and grant recipients will be able to use the funds to support their harm reduction services, including preventing overdose deaths. SAMHSA is also collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on their National Harm Reduction Technical Assistance Center to provide a comprehensive approach to harm reduction through syringe services programs (SSPs) and to other interventions that improve access to resources and other services that prevent death and better the lives of people who use drugs.