Harm Reduction Programs

All health unit regions in Ontario offer Safer Injecting and Safer Smoking Supplies through Harm Reduction Programs and/or Mobile Outreach. Programs offer sterile, single-use injection equipment such as: needles, syringes, alcohol swabs, acidifiers, non-latex tourniquets, sterile filters, sterile cookers and sterile water in the quantity requested by the service user. While each Harm Reduction Program acts as a needle exchange site, meaning clients can drop off used supplies for safe disposal as well as replenish their equipment, clients are not required to ‘trade in’ used equipment in order to gain access to supplies and services.

There are more than 400 access points across Ontario offering free harm reduction supplies. For locations, visit Find a Harm Reduction Program.

In addition to harm reduction supplies, service users are provided with educational resources about harm reduction, health and social services, and non-judgmental, equitable service. These resources are founded on the Best Practice Recommendations for Canadian Harm Reduction Programs that Provide Service to People Whoe Use Drugs and are at Risk for HIV, HCV and Other Harms.

Harm Reduction Programs across the province of Ontario are strongly encouraged to follow the best practice guidelines for distribution of harm reduction supplies and program policies1:

Best Practice

Best Practice:

Use a sterile needle and syringe for each injection to reduce transmission of HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), hepatitis B (HBV), and other pathogens

Recommended Practices:

  • Place no limit on the amount of harm reduction supplies provided per client, per visit, without requiring clients to return used supplies
  • When distributing needles, offer all other supplies necessary for safer injection
  • Encourage clients to return and/or properly dispose of used needles, syringes and harm reduction supplies
  • Offer a variety of needle and syringe types by gauge, size, and brand that meet the needs of clients
  • Educate clients about the risks of reusing harm reduction supplies
  • Discuss the need, purpose and proper use of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as an acidifier
  • Emphasize the importance of heating drugs prior to injection in order to kill bacteria
  • Encourage the usage of mouthpieces with safer smoking equipment

While not distributed by the OHRDP, it is imperative for all Needle Syringe Program service providers to be aware of the safe and proper use of needles and syringes, proper disposal practices, and the dangers associated with the individual reuse and sharing of these pieces of equipment. Please contact your local Public Health Unit and/or NSP for more information.

1. Strike C, Hopkins S, Watson T, Gohil H, Young S, Buxton J et al. Best practice recommendations for harm reduction programs: needle and syringe distribution, other injecting equipment distribution, safer crack kit distribution (interim version). 2012.