Harm Reduction Services

I am going to focus this post on a few of the harm reduction services that I have encountered and have been educated about for individual’s that use substances in the Ottawa area.

Growing up in Northern New York the only harm reduction services that I have been exposed to are the use of medication assisted therapies such as methadone and buprenorphine, in my experiences many of the programs in Northern New York are abstinence based. For those of you from bigger cities, though pretty much anywhere is bigger than the town I grew up in, there may be more options regarding harm reduction strategies. I find it eye opening and interesting to gain knowledge of alternative treatments rather than just abstience based ones.

When I was receiving a tour of one of the supportive housing buildings through Cornerstone called Booth Street, I was introduced to a peer worker who mentioned that he was involved with a safe injection site that recently started within Ottawa. He explained to me that this was a pop-up site, that has not been approved by the city, which provided support and information to individuals that use their substances intravenously. Within the conversation, he mentioned that the city has not shut down the operation as of yet, though there have been complaints from community members. During the tour, I was also informed that Cornerstone Housing for Women’s Booth Street location has a partnership with Inner City Health that provides supervised injection counseling, monitoring for overdoses, as well as provides harm reduction supplies for injecting and inhalation. The peer worker provided me with his contact information to reach out if I was interested in seeing how one of these sites was run, this is one of the things that I hope to coordinate before I end my field placement.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has a Site Needle & Syringe Program in which they distribute supplies to aid in safer substance use, provide education on safer substance use, and refer individuals to appropriate social and health services. This program has been in effect since 1991 as a public health measure to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and minimize other risks associated with substance use (Harm Reduction Services, n.d.). I found it very interesting that this has been in effect since 1991, as there is still a lot of resistance to this harm reduction strategy.

One specific service that OPH offers that I have found very interesting is that many community health centres recently started providing the public with free access to sterile needles and crack pipes through vending machines. Individuals are provided with a token through programs held by OPH which provide them access to a choice of two kits from the vending machine (Lofaro, 2017). Upon returning to my field placement I am going to seek out one of the locations and update this post with a picture of one of the vending machines. I am attaching a link of the article that discusses this more in detail if anyone is interested: Vending Machines.

These are only a few of the programs and services that are offered within the Ottawa area and I will continue to post about others as I become educated about them. I think that providing the public with harm reduction services is important when working in the addiction field, it is important to meet individuals where they are, rather than set them up for failure from the start of their treatment through a one treatment fits all approach.


Lofaro, J. (2017, September 16). Vending machines with clean pipes, needles for drug users open in Ottawa. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/vending-machines-pipes-needles-drug-users-ottawa-1.4292284

Harm Reduction Services in Ottawa. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/public-health-topics/harm-reduction-services-in-ottawa.aspx#Program-goals-and-services


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9 thoughts on “Harm Reduction Services

  1. Pat Shelly

    Hi, Kayley, Glad to see that Safe Injection Sites are being considered – Vancouver has one running a cfew years now. Just yesterday, National Public Radio “Fresh Air” had an interview (toward end of the program with Bobby Allyn) on how Philadelphia is considering such a site. https://www.npr.org/2018/01/08/576457029/could-prescription-heroin-and-safe-injection-sites-slow-the-opioid-crisis
    The Vending Machine harm reduction tactic is new, and sensible. Canada has adopted the substance-use-as-public-health-issue model for services, it seems. And the USA still hangs on to the addiction-is-an-individual-faliure-of-will model – at least in popular opinion circles.
    Looking forward to reading more about the work you do at Cornerstone!

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