I was lucky to complete my two years as a PHAP associate with a unique experience at the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) in Indianapolis. I was sent there from my host site in New Jersey to assist with an opioid-related HIV outbreak. I helped Indiana’s HIV Surveillance Coordinator with various syringe service program activities. Syringe service programs not only provide sterile syringes and naloxone for emergency care, but they also help people access treatment programs and mental health services to prevent overdose and death. The US opioid overdose epidemic is complex and can contribute to other harmful health consequences, like the increase in HIV and hepatitis C that Indiana is experiencing now. In response to this rise in blood-borne infections, ISDH is integrating syringe services into longer-term programs, rather than just using them in response to emergencies.
Part of my job at ISDH was to prepare a template of information that could be tailored to individual counties. The template described why having a syringe service program could benefit a county and outlined the process for establishing one. In creating this template, I hoped to equip ISDH teams with a customizable, high-quality tool they could use to establish syringe service programs even after I left the state.
During this time, I was also fortunate to work with Melia Haile, another PHAP associate deployed to the region. I observed and supported her outreach work for the Scott County, Indiana, syringe service program to test HIV and hepatitis C in the community. Doing door-to-door testing and outreach at apartment complexes in the area was memorable because many residents were thankful for our work and seemed to understand its urgency.
I’m thankful PHAP gave me the opportunity to apply my skills across multiple communities and ultimately promote better health for all.