Funding Withdrawn Amidst Controversy: Nonprofit Advocate for Syringe Services Faces Setback

BOLIVAR, Pennsylvania – Kim Botteicher, the executive director of a nonprofit service provider in Westmoreland County, is advocating for a change in Pennsylvania laws to allow syringe services. Botteicher’s organization recently lost $150,000 in opioid settlement funding from county officials after she went public with her support for syringe services. Despite the loss of funding, Botteicher remains committed to her work in addiction and recovery, and she believes that expanding syringe services is crucial. However, Pennsylvania’s drug paraphernalia law poses a challenge, as it makes it difficult for opioid settlement money to directly support syringe services in many areas of the state.

Syringe services programs, which provide clean needles and other supplies to reduce the risks associated with drug injection, have gained widespread support in the medical community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that comprehensive syringe services programs are safe, effective, and play a significant role in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV, and other infections. These programs also connect individuals to recovery services.

Expanding syringe services is listed as one of the core strategies for utilizing the billions of dollars in opioid settlement funds received by states. However, Pennsylvania’s strict drug paraphernalia law hinders the direct support of syringe services in many parts of the state. While there is a need for legal clarity and consistency, local leaders have been left to decide how to allocate the settlement funds and address the public health and legal implications involved.

The case of Botteicher and her organization, FAVOR – Western PA, sheds light on the conflict and highlights the urgency of changing state law. County officials in Westmoreland County cited legal concerns as the reason for pulling FAVOR’s funding. Despite legal uncertainties, many advocates argue that syringe services save lives and reduce harm. They emphasize the importance of providing clear legal protections to syringe service providers.

Pennsylvania is expected to receive over $1.6 billion in opioid settlement funds, but there is still no definitive guidance on how the money can be spent. The state legislators have the power to clarify and amend the drug paraphernalia law to explicitly permit syringe exchange programs. Until then, Botteicher and other advocates will continue their efforts to change the laws and ensure that critical harm reduction tools like syringe services are accessible.

The loss of funding for FAVOR has disrupted the organization’s plans to provide emergency housing and other community programs. Botteicher remains determined to seek alternative funding options and continue their work despite the setback. Supporters of syringe services stress the vital role they play in addressing addiction and reducing harm, making the need for legal reform all the more evident. Botteicher expressed her belief that syringe services are the right and effective solution, and she will continue advocating for legislative change.