Changes in Philadelphia SSP funding sparks debate online

Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker announced that “not one city dollar” will be used to fund the distribution of sterile syringes to people who use drugs. Parker’s administration still plans to use money from opioid settlement funds to support other harm reduction services, such as the distribution of naloxone and fentanyl test strips, but anything “directly used in the consumption of substances” will not receive funding. While syringe services programs, or SSPs, can continue to provide sterile syringes in Philadelphia, removing or limiting city funding may put these programs at risk—including the largest and oldest SSP in Philadelphia, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city each year. The announcement has sparked widespread debate across social media platforms about whether or not SSPs benefit communities.

Recommendation: Online conversations about this announcement include persistent false narratives that SSPs increase drug use and do not benefit communities. This provides an opportunity to debunk false narratives and share the documented benefits of SSPs, which reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis C by approximately 50 percent. Messaging may emphasize that decades of research has shown that SSPs do not increase drug use or crime in the communities they serve. Public health professionals should also be aware that online narratives are using stigmatizing language to refer to people who use SSPs, despite data showing that people who use SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who do not use SSPs.