Alaska presents a unique challenge for access to harm reduction services; prior to 2016 only 3 urban syringe access programs (SAPs) serviced the state, which includes over 200 tribal villages spread over 650,000 square miles. Since then, innovative strategies such as a local volunteer-run SAP in Homer, a SAP at a rural tribal medical clinic in Bethel, and a mail order tribal harm reduction program out of Anchorage have greatly expanded access to services throughout the state. Additionally, rural medical clinics offer a critical access point for patients who use drugs to access medications and services to reduce risks and improve their health.
A few learning objectives:
- Review the barriers to accessing harm reduction services in rural areas
- Explore the strengths and opportunities that rural communities have to offer to in the development of harm reduction services
- Discuss the process and importance of community involvement in the creation of new harm reduction programs in rural areas
- Understand how medications and rural medical clinics can play a critical role in reducing morbidity and mortality for PWUD
Presenter: Sarah Spencer, MD
Dr. Sarah Spencer is board certified in family and addiction medicine and has been providing treatment for opioid use disorder in rural Alaska for over a decade. She works with Project HOPE to provide opioid overdose response training and naloxone distribution and is a founding member and volunteer medical director of Alaska’s only rural syringe access program in Homer. She is currently an employee of the Ninilchik Traditional Council and provides family medicine and addiction treatment services at their tribal clinic, including telemedicine to remote native villages. She teaches on addiction issues across the state of Alaska, including buprenorphine waiver certification courses. She is a co-author of the state’s medication assisted treatment guide and is the state’s senior physician consultant for the SAHMSA funded Opioid Response Network non-profit consulting program.