PORTLAND — MaineHealth has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for a statewide overdose and infection prevention program focused on harm reduction.

The program, Distribution of Harm reduction Access in Rural Maine Areas (DHARMA), is a collaboration among MaineHealth and several community organizations including public health agencies, syringe service programs, academic institutions, and other treatment providers. Its goals are to provide clients of syringe service programs in Maine’s rural counties with harm reduction supplies and to connect them with care for infectious disease prevention and treatment, wound care, and substance use.

“As overdose deaths are at an all-time high in Maine, we feel an urgent need to improve the health of people in our communities,” said Dr. Kristen Silvia, an addiction medicine specialist who is co-leading Project DHARMA, with infectious disease and addiction specialist Dr. Kinna Thakarar. “Harm reduction is an evidence-based set of strategies that reduces the risk of overdose and the infection complications of substance use. Anyone can have a substance use disorder. These are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. They are our friends, our neighbors, and our patients. These are people we care about and who deserve care and everything we can do to keep them alive. No one should have to die from a substance use disorder.”

Harm reduction outreach specialists embedded in local syringe service programs will dispense fentanyl test strips and wound care kits, as well as naloxone to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. They also will partner with Colby College to use spectrometry-based drug checking to help identify how much fentanyl and other contaminants are present in drugs circulating in Maine communities.

Collaborators include Maine Office of Behavioral Health, Maine Center for Disease Control, 14 Federally Qualified Health Centers, academic partners, and treatment providers throughout the state, as well as a Harm Reduction Advisory Council.

“Project DHARMA has the potential to facilitate access to harm reduction supplies and services to people in Maine who need it the most,” Thakarar said. “Harm reduction outreach specialists at the syringe service programs are essential to the success of the project and to improving the health and safety of people using drugs. They are also ideally positioned to help link clients to healthcare and services”

“The decision by SAMHSA to fund the DHARMA project will enhance the harm-reduction and overdose prevention activities specified in the state’s Opioid Response Strategic Action Plan. We appreciate the work done by MaineHealth and its several partners and look forward to getting the project started,” said Gordon Smith, director of opioid response for the state.