Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a range of practical strategies and ideas focused on reducing the harmful consequences associated with drug use and other risky health behaviours1. The principle of harm reduction is grounded in social justice and emphasizes respecting the rights of an individual to choice1 and addressing the inequalities of health and wellbeing in the drug using community2.

Harm reduction strategies, surrounding drug use, recognize that abstaining from drugs may not be realistic or even desirable for everyone. Harm reduction strategies are community-based, user-driven, non-judgmental and address systems that isolate and marginalize individuals1.

Harm reduction approaches have proven to be efficacious in preventing transmission of blood borne viruses and pathogens (e.g.:HIV, Hepatitis C and B, various sexually transmitted infections) between individuals.

Brief Overview of Harm Reduction in Ontario and OHRDP’s Work

1989 The first Needle Syringe Program is established through Toronto Public Health
1997 Needle Syringe Programs are established as mandatory provincial programs; no minimum standards or guidelines available
2004 Ontario Needle Syringe Programs distributed over 3.2 million sterile needles and syringes
2006 Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program was established in response to prevalence of HCV and HIV infection among people who use drugs
2006 31 out of 36 public health units operating needle exchange services
2006 Introduction of the Best Practice Recommendations for Canadian Harm Reduction Programs that Provide Service to People Who Use Drugs and are at Risk for HIV, HCV and Other Harms.
2007 Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program distributed 412,000 cookers to core harm reduction programs
2008 Ontario Public Health Standards state that the Boards of Health in all Public Health regions “shall ensure access to a variety of harm reduction program delivery models which shall include the provision of sterile needles and syringes and may include other evidence-informed harm reduction strategies in response to local surveillance”
2010 Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program provided 1,612,000 cookers to core harm reduction programs
2012 In all 36 health unit regions, individuals can now access clean supplies, education and support through harm reduction programs
2012 Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program provided 2,560,000 cookers to core harm reduction programs
2013 Review of the Best Practice Recommendations for Canadian Harm Reduction Programs that Provide Service to People Who Use Drugs and are at Risk for HIV, HCV and Other Harms: Part 1
2014 Safer Crack Smoking supplies made available through OHRDP
2015 Introduction of the Best Practice Recommendations for Canadian Harm Reduction Programs that Provide Service to People Who Use Drugs and are at Risk for HIV, HCV and Other Harms: Part 2
2016 867 Ontarians died from opioid overdoses
2017 OHRDP hosts 9th Harm Reduction Conference for front line staff working with agencies that offer harm reduction services
2017 First Ontario Supervised Injection Site opens in Toronto while other communities open temporary Overdose Prevention Sites to help address the rise in overdoses
2017 1,265 Ontarians died from opioid overdose – an increase of 46% since 2016. 7,764 individuals visited the emergency department for an opioid-related emergency and of those 2,142 were admitted to hospital
2018 Crystal Meth bowl pipes added to the supply order form
2018 Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program provided 7,964,000 cookers to core harm reduction programs in Ontario
2018 Introduction of Consumption and Treatment Services to provide integrated, wrap-around services that connect clients who use drugs to primary care, treatment and other health and social services
2019 100% of Public Health Units are now providing safer injecting and safer smoking supplies through more than 400 access points in Ontario

Introduction Into Harm Reduction

For a great, brief introduction into harm reduction, you are encouraged to view the following short video entitled ‘Harm Reduction and Me’ featuring Dr. Jenny Scott from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

Footnotes

  1. Leonard L & Germain A. Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program: Final Outcome Evaluation. 2009.
  2. Strike C, Leonard L, Millson M, Anstice S, Berkeley N, Medd E. Ontario Needle Exchange Programs: Best Practices Recommendations. Toronto: Ontario Needle Exchange Coordinating Committee. 2006.