Harm Reduction Services and Supports
What is harm reduction?
Harm reduction is any policy, program or service that helps a person or community reduce harms related to substance use without necessarily requiring a decrease in substance use.
Harm reduction works alongside treatment, where the goal is often to decrease substance use. Prevention, treatment, and harm reduction all work together to help build healthy and safe communities.
Beyond substance use, examples of harm reduction include: Wearing a seatbelt while driving, wearing a helmet while playing some sports, or putting on sunscreen while out in the sun. We recognize that there are risks that go along with an activity, and we take steps to reduce these risks.
Why harm reduction?
In Canada and PEI, drug related overdoses are on the rise. This is driven in part by fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which have made the illicit drug supply increasingly toxic.
According to Health Canada, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a 95% increase in apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada compared to the previous year. PEI has also seen an increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths over the same period of time.
Harm reduction interventions have been proven to save lives and reduce costs and harms related to substance use.
What are the benefits of harm reduction?
Harm reduction services and supports have many benefits, including:
- Preventing drug-related overdoses and deaths;
- Preventing bacterial, viral, and other infections (i.e., HIV, Hepatitis B and C, endocarditis, cellulitis);
- Connecting more people to treatment and other supports (i.e., addictions and mental health, medical, housing, employment and income);
- Cost savings (i.e., reduced health spending by preventing illness and hospital admissions); and
- Most importantly, harm reduction helps people live with greater dignity and respect for their human rights.
There is no evidence showing that harm reduction services negatively impact public safety. In fact, harm reduction services have been shown to improve public order by moving higher risk substance use from public spaces to safer private spaces, and by reducing the number of discarded sharps in public spaces.
Currently available services and supports
Currently available harm reduction services and supports include:
- Take Home Naloxone Kits, which are available at Needle Exchange Program sites and other locations across PEI;
- The Needle Exchange Program (Health PEI), which is available in communities across PEI and offers needle exchange, safe disposal, free naloxone kits, and other supports;
- The Needle Exchange Expansion Project (P.E.E.R.S Alliance), a partnership with the Provincial Needle Exchange Program and the Community Outreach Center to increase access to harm reduction supplies;
- The National Overdose Response Service and Brave, which are phone-based overdose response services. People who use drugs are encouraged to contact these services, especially if using alone. Both services are available 24/7 and are free, confidential, and non-judgemental;
- The Substance Use Harm Reduction Drug Program, which provides coverage to eligible PEI residents for medications for opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder;
- Mental Health and Addictions Services (Health PEI), which includes a network of services across PEI for needs related to mental health and substance use;
- Women's Wellness Program & Sexual Health Services, which provides reproductive and sexual health care to PEI residents of all genders, orientations and ages at various sites across PEI; and
- CATIE, a Canada-wide source for information on HIV and Hepatitis C.
Harm reduction services and supports in development
The following harm reduction services and supports are currently being developed, and will be launched at a future date:
- An Overdose Prevention Site pilot, which will provide supervised consumption services and other supports to clients;
- Drug checking services to prevent overdoses and support public health surveillance of the illicit drug supply;
- Increased access to harm reduction supplies such as naloxone, sterile syringes, condoms, and other supplies; and
- Increased access to safe disposal of harm reduction supplies, which will reduce the number of sharps and other items discarded in public spaces.