By: Neeraj Gandotra, M.D., Chief Medical Officer
SAMHSA is one of several collaborating HHS agencies leading the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. SAMHSA’s goal is to improve prevention, increase testing frequency, and increase referrals and support linkage to HIV treatment when necessary. SAMHSA has concentrated 70 percent of the Minority AIDS initiative grantees within the 48 identified areas with the highest number of new HIV cases. These grantees of the MAI are required to request HIV testing on all individuals upon intake/enrollment and provide linkage to confirmatory testing and services upon positive results. SAMHSA can track the number of positive results and referrals for all grantees. Additionally those enrollees who test negative but at high risk should be offered referrals for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). SAMHSA is partnering with our federal partners to assist those at high risk for contracting HIV in prevention through the PrEP program where prep will be available to those without insurance. Over 60,000 individuals have been screened by our grantees. SAMHSA is still accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2020 for the Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Navigator Program for Racial/Ethnic Minorities (Short Title: Prevention Navigator). On World AIDS day, we at SAMHSA will also recognize the efforts of our staff, our grantees, federal partners, and the community as a whole in working towards the shared goal of Ending the HIV Epidemic.
SAMHSA’s commitment toward this health crisis has been longstanding, generating past products focusing on HIV such as TIP 37 and also new development of a social media resource, the New HIV Prevention Platform. Our Technology Transfer Centers, which provide technical assistance in real time to grantees, is another great source for information. Knowing that the risk of further transmission is lower when individuals know their status and receive education, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz has recently reached out to colleagues to endorse greater utilization of oral fluid testing among all programs as it offers another tool for effective screening.
SAMHSA is still accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2020 for the Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Navigator Program for Racial/Ethnic Minorities (Short Title: Prevention Navigator).The program will provide training and education around the risks of substance misuse, provide education on HIV/AIDS, and provide needed linkages to service provision for individuals with HIV.
Understanding the increased incidence of HIV in individuals with substance use disorder and/or mental illness, the community mental health centers and substance abuse treatment centers can serve as an important screening site for an at risk population and be a vital entry point for treatment. To quote our Assistant Secretary, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz in her March 2019 letter to colleagues (PDF | 185 KB), “Because drug use may weaken the immune system and lead to risky behaviors such as needle sharing and unsafe sex, people who use drugs — including injection drugs — have a greater likelihood of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases…SAMHSA understands that that increasing capacity and service delivery to those with substance use disorder will result in increased screening, detection, and then linkage to those with HIV/AIDS in this high risk population.” Knowing that we cannot effectively end this epidemic without addressing mental health and substance abuse, SAMHSA welcomes partnership at all levels from all stakeholders.