Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have been awarded a five-year $2.3 million grant by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to launch a new study examining how expanded mobile harm reduction services affect overdose rates among women who use drugs in Baltimore city and county.
Susan Sherman, PhD, MPH, Bloomberg Professor of American Health in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, is the study’s principal investigator. The grant will be used to expand a mobile program run by the SPARC Center, a drop-in Center and mobile outreach initiative founded by Sherman in November 2017 that operates in south and southwest Baltimore. SPARC provides harm reduction supplies – such as sterile syringes, through an authorized syringe services program; naloxone; and condoms – as well as personal necessities, such as food and clothing, to women and non-men. The SPARC Mobile program, fully launched in 2019 with one van, also offers trauma-informed counseling, medical outreach services, and necessary referrals. They currently have over 1,200 contacts monthly.
For their study, the research team will investigate the impact harm reduction services have on nonfatal overdose and clinical care engagement rates among women who use drugs. The study will involve 400 participants from Baltimore City and Baltimore County who are new to the SPARC Mobile program. The study – titled Sustained Harm Reduction OUTreach (SHOUT) – will also measure the impact of SPARC Mobile’s outreach, fund the purchase of an additional SPARC van, and assess practical considerations around executing the program.
“We are excited to evaluate the impact of Mobile SPARC,” says Sherman. “The low-barrier service provided harm reduction, vaccinations, and other services during COVID when few such services were so accessible. Understanding the impact and cost of such low-barrier harm reduction services to reduce overdoses and increase access to health services could support the need for such programming in Baltimore and elsewhere.”
“SPARC is optimistic about the growth potential that we have through SHOUT,” says Katie Evans, senior research program coordinator at the Bloomberg School and the SPARC Center’s managing director.
“We look forward to collaborating with the SPARC Center to expand their outreach to women who use drugs and evaluate the impact of their services in new areas of Baltimore City and county,” says Emily Clouse, MScPH, senior research program manager at the Bloomberg School, who will serve as the SHOUT study’s research director.
The SHOUT study is part of a new research network created by NIDA to address the U.S. overdose crisis. The network, announced on December 16, will include nine research projects, as well as a central, coordinating center. NIDA anticipates dedicating a total of approximately $36 million to the awards over a five-year period, pending funding availability.
The projects will evaluate harm reduction strategies in communities across the U.S. Researchers will study methods of linking people who use drugs with services and treatments, though NIH is not offering funds for the procurement of pipes, syringes, or needles. Each project will work with a designated community advisory board and/or people with lived experience, who will help address research needs through paid roles.
The study’s co-investigators include assistant scientist Catherine Tomko, PhD; assistant scientist Danielle Nestadt, PhD; and assistant scientist Kristin Schneider, PhD.