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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Haws

Harm Reduction Tips

Updated: Apr 9

Image courtesy of the Ontario HIV Treatment Network

Many clients come to me who use substances for a variety of reasons including recreational use as well as dependence. Regardless of why you use substances, you deserve to be as safe as possible. Your life matters. I have put together some harm reduction information that I’ve come across over the years that may be helpful for those using substances. 

Know your substance: It is important to understand the benefits and risks of using any particular substance. Kn=owing these benefits and risks can help you make informed decisions that work for you. A resource that I really appreciate for providing such knowledge is DanceSafe. DanceSafe is a nonprofit organization from the United States aimed at reducing harm from substance use at festivals and concerts.

Test your drugs: Every drug carries a risk of not being what you asked for. To help prevent the likelihood of taking something you don't intend to, test your drugs. There are services that can do this for you. 

  • DrugCheckinYYC: is a local Calgary service providing free in-person drug checking three days a week. Check out their Instagram for their drug-checking schedule. 

  • Get Your Drugs Tested: is a service run out of Vancouver that provides in-person and mail drug testing for free. 

Carry Naloxone: Naloxone is a drug that is able to counteract the effects of opiates like heroin, morphine, oxycontin, and fentanyl. Carrying Naloxone can mean the difference between life and death. We never know what our friends are using, and we never know exactly what is in our drugs. It is important to not only carry Naloxone but also know how to use it. It is also important to note that Nalzone can't reverse a benzodiazepine overdose. Learn more at the following resources: 

  • Your local pharmacy: Every major pharmacy carries injectable Naloxone. The pharmacist can show you how to use it. 

  • St. John’s Naloxone Training: You can sign up for free online training and receive two free nasal naloxone kits. Many people report nasal Naloxone as less intimidating to use. 

Don’t use alone. Using alone means there’s no one to step in if the unthinkable happens. Having someone there with you in some capacity is essential to help ensure your safety. Don’t have someone to sit with you? No problem, there are resources for that: ‘

  • The Digital Overdose Response System: is an app that you can use when you use substances. You press a button when you are about to start and the app will check in on you with an alert at a predetermined amount of time. If you don’t respond to that contact, help will be sent.

Use clean supplies: Reusing and sharing supplies can cause infection and diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. To help prevent such occurrences, be sure to use clean supplies such as straws or straights for snorting, glass pipes for smoking, and needles for injecting. Safe Works in Calgary provides safe consumption supplies for free. 

Start low and go slow: Opiates are not the only substances that can cause a fatal overdose. Substances like, but not limited to, GHB, cocaine, meth, xylazine and ketamine can have fatal effects if used in excess. If you’re choosing to use any substance, start low with your dose and increase doses slowly. You can’t go back once you’ve taken too much but you can always increase if you feel like what you took was too little. While everyone is different, DanceSafe does provide rough estimates for average doses and time frames for various substances. 

Be mindful about mixing substances: Some substances are riskier when in combination with others. Though we can never know for sure how we may react to any combination of substances, it can be helpful to inform yourself of the possibilities. Below is a drug interaction chart put together by the TripSit project. You can also check drug combinations online using their website. 

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