Information: Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction is a public health approach aimed at reducing the adverse health, social, and economic outcomes of risk associated activities, such as the use of substances¹. 

Examples of Harm Reduction: 

  • Air Bags
  • Speed Limits  
  • Sunscreen  
  • Naloxone Kits
  • Epi-Pens
  • Helmets   
  • Life Jackets 
  • Hand-washing
  • Hand Sanitizer  
  • Traffic Lights and Cross Walks  
  • Access to Clean Medical Supplies
  • Condoms  
  • Vaccines 

Harm Reduction can take a variety of forms and is necessary in many everyday situations. The goal of the Harm Reduction Movement is to lessen the negative impacts of substance dependency on individuals, families, and the broader community¹. It is a social justice movement based on a belief in – and respect for – the rights of people living with a substance dependency. 

Examples of At-risk Substance-related Activities:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Electronic cigarettes (vapes)  
  • Smoking, vaping, or otherwise consuming cannabis 
  • Using opiates such as hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, heroin, etc. 
  • Using stimulants such as cocaine, crack cocaine, and methamphetamines (meth) including crystal meth 
  • Using benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, etc.
  • Using hallucinogens such as magic mushrooms, LSD (acid), DMT, etc.  
  • Using poison/tainted street drugs  

Examples of Substance-related Harm Reduction Interventions:

  • Smoking cessation (e.g. prescriptions, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, etc.) 
  • Opioid Assisted Therapy (e.g. methadone, suboxone, etc.)
  • Needle exchange programs 
  • Harm Reduction supply programs  
  • Safe supply of substances 
  • Safe consumption sites 
  • Overdose prevention sites 

To find a list of Harm Reduction supplies NHCS offers, check out the Needle Distribution and Disposal page. 

High rates of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) such as HIV and Hep C are transmitted through injection substance use. Viruses can survive in used supplies and be transmitted through shared use. 

Harm Reduction practices help prevent:

  • Physical health issues: unsafe substance use can lead to chronic conditions such as cirrhosis, cellulitis, endocarditis and soft tissue damage such as abscesses and infected injection sites  
  • Sexual risks: impaired judgement can lead to unsafe sexual practices and result in infection  
  • Unemployment: when harm reduction practices are applied, people living with a substance dependency are better supported to find and maintain jobs  
  • Incarceration and engagement in criminal activity: when injection supplies are not readily available, individuals with substance-use dependencies can resort to illicit and unsafe activity to fund or obtain what they require, resulting in arrests, monetary fines and prison sentences  
  • Overdose, injuries and death: using unsafe supplies can result in life-threatening injuries and death from infection or overdose  
  • Stigma and shame: individuals with substance-use dependencies may make healthier decisions and form safer habits when they feel safe and respected  
  • Costs to the health care system: when sterile supplies are used, individuals are less likely to need an emergency room or hospital visit, which means less tax dollars are spent 

Harm reduction has many benefits for people who use substances and their families, friends, and community.

Harm Reduction services can:

  • Connect clients to support programs and social services  
  • Create awareness of the impact of stigma surrounding substance use has on poverty and mental health issues  
  • Provide access to physical and mental health services through a Support Coordinator  
  • Support healthier habits and improve the mindset of individuals with substance dependency through programs and peer groups  
  • Prevent the transmission of Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections (STBBIs) by providing information related to safer sex and safer injection practices

Simply put, a Needle Distribution and Disposal Site (or Needle Exchange) is a place where clients can bring used needles and “exchange” them for fresh, sterile ones.

Pharmacies and other medical facilities may also fall under the category of “needle exchange”.
Be sure to check out the section on Pharmacy Emergency Bags.

Needle use is a fact of life for many people. Clients may be persons who use drugs (PWUD), home care workers, people with chronic illness or injury, or people undergoing medical treatments that may require injection supplies.

None of these concerns are mutually exclusive and clients do not need to disclose their reason for accessing a Needle Exchange program. Consideration for the safety and well-being of all people is the goal of Needle Exchange programs like NHCS.


  1. Manitoba Health, Healthy Living and Seniors.  (2016, January). Chief provincial public health officer position statement: Harm Reduction. Office of the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.
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