Reducing Harm When Using Drugs

IMPORTANT NOTE: As of Jan. 12, 2021, the Province has announced a second State of Emergency in Ontario due to rising cases of COVID-19. The Ontario government’s order means people must stay at home except for getting essentials and follow these restrictions and public health measures.

Washing hands, covering your cough, self-isolating, and practising physical distancing are all needed to slow the spread of COVID-19. If you currently use substances or other drugs, there’s added urgency to be safe. Not only is it important to avoid overdoses and reduce the risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis, you also need to reduce harm from COVID-19.  

Please note: During COVID-19, if you need harm reduction supplies, please order ahead if possible by calling the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 3000. Ring or knock at the office door when you come to pick up and the order will be brought to the door for you. 

General Tips (For Those Not Self-Isolating/Showing No COVID-19 Symptoms) 
  • Do not share supplies (cigarettes, joints, pipes, injecting equipment, containers for alcohol, utensils, and other supplies). Use your own mouthpiece and keep it only for YOUR use 
  • Avoid handshakes, hugs, kisses and other close contact 
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before preparing, handling or using drugs. Prepare your own drugs 
  • If you cannot wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer, use alcohol-based hand wipes 
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use tissues. Throw tissues away immediately and wash your hands 
  • It’s strongly recommended you clean surfaces with soap and water, alcohol wipes, bleach or hydrogen peroxide before preparing drugs 
  • If you share a washroom with others, clean and disinfect surfaces like knobs, taps, and flushers. Use soap and water, bleach, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based wipes (70%) after every use. Do not mix different types of cleaning solutions 
  • Buddy up if using drugs, but be safe! COVID-19 is passed by droplets, so you must stay 2 metres (six feet) – roughly the length of a hockey stick – from your buddy to avoid passing the virus  
  • Using with a buddy is safer than using drugs alone, but remember to keep your physical distance! Buddies may be able to bring food, harm reduction supplies, medicine, and substances so that you can stay well. You can also be a buddy to others who need support. Check in on your buddies regularly and have them do the same for you  
  • Carry naloxone and have an overdose plan. If necessary, you can perform chest compressions. Do not do rescue breathing due to COVID-19 concerns  
  • If you must use drugs by yourself, call a buddy to have him/her regularly check in on you 
If Isolating (With or Without COVID-19 Symptoms)  
  • Do not leave your home! Ask a buddy to pick up supplies including naloxone from harm reduction sites or outreach workers. Arrange to have the supplies dropped off at your door, being sure to practise physical distancing  
  • Try to have the substances you need to stay well. Know that carrying large amounts may land you in trouble with the law. Consider alternatives to your drug of choice, especially if supplies are difficult to get and you face withdrawal symptoms 
  • Have a backup plan and be cautious of new supplies you may need to get  
  • Try to have the medications you need. Refills may be available through your pharmacist or by phone without having to see your doctor. If you’re feeling sick and require medications, call your pharmacy in advance 
  • Health Canada is working on exemptions to ensure access to OAT (Opioid Agonist Therapy) and other medicines 
  • For more information, contact your health care provider  
Responding to an Overdose During COVID-19 

If using a naloxone kit, refer to the Five Steps to Respond to an Opioid Overdose sheet inside. Take these extra precautions too:  

  • Stimulate: try and rouse the person, encourage them to take breaths 
  • If no response: call 9-1-1, give naloxone and perform chest compressions. DO NOT try doing rescue breathing 
  • When using a naloxone kit: put gloves on, but do not use the faceshield/breathing barrier for rescue breaths (not advised given COVID-19 situation) 
  • After responding, properly remove gloves and throw them in the garbage. Wash/clean hands thoroughly 
  • If chest compressions are needed, place a towel or a piece of clothing over the person’s nose and mouth to protect yourself from droplets 

Reminder: The Good Samaritan Act offers legal protection for someone to help in an emergency. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act protects anyone on scene of an overdose from being charged for possessing/using drugs 

Additional Resources  

Mental Health and COVID-19

COVID-19 can feel overwhelming. While it’s important to reduce the risk of the virus, you also need to look after your mental health at this time. Here’s what to do: 

  • Maintain routines as you’re able, keeping in mind the importance to take precautions such as physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • While you’re encouraged to only have close contact with others in your immediate household, stay connected with family and friends through phone, social media or video-conferencing.
  • Seek professional help. If you’re overwhelmed, talk by phone to a health professional or counsellor. If you have coverage for a counsellor through work, access your Employee and Family Assistance Plan.  
  • Eat well 
  • Stay active: Doing fun and healthy activities outdoors makes it easier to keep physical distance.  
  • Get enough sleep 
  • Look back at challenging situations and see how you successfully coped with them 
  • Limit your daily dose of COVID-19-related news to reduce anxiety and worry. Fight fear with facts about the pandemic by turning to credible sources of information. 

Supporting Others 

  • COVID-19 affects everyone, so be kind to others – regardless of gender, ethnicity, income or age. 
  • Reduce stigma. Use supportive language like: “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID19”, or “people who are recovering from COVID-19”. Don’t define others  just because they’re affected by the coronavirus.   
  • Be neighbourly and assist others where possible, being sure to protect your health as well. 
  • Share positive and inspiring stories of what your community is doing to pull together during this time.  
  • Be patient and recognize the role caretakers and health care workers are playing in supporting people affected with COVID-19.  
If You Are Self-Isolating 
  • Stay connected with friends and family by phone, social media or video calls. 
  • Ask for help from friends, family and neighbours to deliver necessities to your door. Many community groups (e.g. churches and service clubs) have volunteers to help those who are isolated. 
  • Even if isolating or in quarantine, keep up your personal daily routines at home or create new ones.  
  • Stay healthy. Be active, eat well and get enough sleep.  
If You Have Mental Health and Addiction Issues

It’s extra important to control your anxiety and maintain your mental wellness during COVID-19:

  • Consider and accept that some fear and anxiety is normal
  • Seek credible information provided by experts and reputable sources
  • Assess your personal risk
  • Seek support
  • Get proper rest and sleep
  • Stay active
  • Access this Mental Health and COVID-19 Pandemic resource from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Additional Resources:  

Four County Crisis – If you’re in crisis please call 705-745-6484 or toll-free 1-866-995-9933. By phoning these numbers, you can access 24-hour, free, confidential crisis support.

211 Community Support – Easily find/search government and community-based services during COVID-19.  Call or text 2-1-1 day or night to find support for all of life’s challenges. Live Chat also available Monday to Friday from 7 am to 9 pm.

Centre for Addition and Mental Health  

Bounce Back – A guided self-help program for adults and youth aged 15 and over using workbooks with online videos and phone coaching support.

Kids’ Help Phone – 24/7 virtual support service offering professional counselling, information and referrals as well as volunteer-led, text-based support to young people. Services available in both English and French by calling 1-800-668-6868.

Good2Talk – Free, confidential mental health support service providing professional counselling and information and referrals for mental health, addictions and well-being to postsecondary students in Ontario

Wellness Together Canada – Mental health and substance use support.

World Health Organization 

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