Page last updated Nov. 7, 2023 by Doug McVay, Editor.

1. Principles of Harm Reduction

"Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies that includes safer use, managed use, abstinence, meeting people who use drugs 'where they’re at,' and addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve people who use drugs reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.

"However, National Harm Reduction Coalition considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice:

"Accepts, for better or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them

"Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe use to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others

"Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being — not necessarily cessation of all drug use — as the criteria for successful interventions and policies

"Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm

"Ensures that people who use drugs and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them

"Affirms people who use drugs (PWUD) themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use and seeks to empower PWUD to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use

"Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination, and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm

"Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger that can be associated with illicit drug use"

National Harm Reduction Coalition. Principles of Harm Reduction. Revised 2020. Last accessed Nov. 2, 2021.

2. Conclusion of National Institutes of Health Report to Congress on Overdose Prevention Centers

"A 2014 meta-analysis of 75 studies concluded that OPCs have largely fulfilled their initial objectives;39 the implementation of new OPCs in places with high rates of IDU and its associated harms appears to be supported by the existing evidence.39 Methodological caveats notwithstanding, drug use supervision and overdose management have the potential to provide health benefits to at-risk PWID as well as economic advantages to the larger community. The preponderance of the evidence suggests these sites are able to provide sterile equipment, overdose reversal, and linkage to medical care for addiction, in the virtual absence of significant direct risks like increases in drug use, drug sales, or crime. OPCs may represent a novel way of addressing some of the many challenges presented by the overdose crisis, and they could contribute to reduced morbidity and mortality, and improved public health.

"Based on the above considerations, there is a clear need for more rigorous research and evaluation of OPCs. Given the amount and quality of the existing data, it may be prudent to consider the American Medical Association’s recommendation of developing and implementing OPC pilot programs in the United States designed, monitored, and evaluated to generate locality-relevant data to inform policymakers on the feasibility and effectiveness of OPCs in reducing harms and health care costs related to IDU.94

National Institutes of Health. Report to Congress: Overdose Prevention Centers. Washington, DC: Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nov. 2021.

3. Impact of safe consumption facilities on individual and community outcomes

"Our review found at the individual-level that SCFs were efficacious in reducing drug use related infection and disease transmission, enhancing access to addiction and other health services, and reducing the risk of non-fatal overdoses, and were not associated with a significant increase in drug use. These findings challenge the notion that SCFs may perpetuate substance use and lead to increased use among PWID. With regard to non-fatal overdose, the evidence over the past ten years have been largely been qualitative and would benefit from the use of quantitative methods that help to approximate causality. For example, the use of a propensity score modeling may help to determine the effectiveness of SCFs for individual-level outcomes based on observational or cross-sectional data (Hullsiek and Louis, 2002). Future studies may also want to consider the use of comparison groups or cities to examine the different factors influencing the effectiveness of SCFs. Additionally, we found emerging evidence that SCFs provide PWID with a sense of community that may support their overall wellbeing, thereby increasing their chances of accessing addiction treatment services. However, this evidence came qualitative studies (Rance and Fraser, 2011; Jozaghi and Andresen, 2013; Davidson et al., 2018; Kerman et al., 2020), and provides a future direction for research examining the impact of SCFs."

"Future quantitative studies may want to include a validated measure of wellbeing and sense of belonging. In particular, longitudinal studies should examine the degree to which a sense of belonging and having a supportive community may play a role in injection cessation and help-seeking behaviors for SCF attenders. At the community level, the evidence shows that SCFs were not associated with an increased rate of drug-related crime, and were linked to a decrease use of other costly public services (e.g. ambulance transport to hospital following an overdose). However, this evidence is still growing and requires additional research that accounts for other cofounding relationships using a longitudinal, inferential research design. Furthermore, we found that SCFs were associated with a reduction in public disorder, including less public disposal of syringes and use in public spaces. Future research should consider the gathering information from multiple sources (e.g. community members, service providers, police services) to examine the impact of SCFs on the public. Finally, there appear to be significant cost-benefits associated with SCFs, yet all of these studies have focused on the benefits related to the reduction of infectious disease transmission and injection-related death. Future studies should consider additional benefits related to the families of SCF attenders and reduction in community costs associated with decrease in public disorder."

Sarah J. Dow-Fleisner, Arielle Lomness, Lucía Woolgar, Impact of safe consumption facilities on individual and community outcomes: A scoping review of the past decade of research, Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health, Volume 2, 2022, 100046, ISSN 2667-1182,

4. Harm Reduction Interventions Aim To Reduce The Negative Effects Of Health Behaviors

"Harm reduction refers to interventions aimed at reducing the negative effects of health behaviors without necessarily extinguishing the problematic health behaviors completely or permanently. Though the harm reduction model as we know it rose in prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in response to infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV [1], its roots extend at least as far back as the early 1900s with narcotic maintenance clinics [2, 3]. In the context of substance use, harm reduction disentangles the notion that drug use equals harm and instead identifies the negative consequences of drug use as the target for intervention rather than drug use itself [4]. Harm reduction strategies include syringe exchange programs, safer injection facilities, overdose prevention programs and policies, and opioid substitution treatment. Harm reduction as an approach stands in opposition to the traditional medical model of addiction which labels any illicit substance use as abuse, as well as to the moral model, which labels drug use as wrong and therefore illegal [5]. While most often applied in treatment for illicit substance use, harm reduction is increasingly used in many different settings, with a variety of populations, and in instances where there is a desire to reduce the negative effects of legal/licit substances, such as in tobacco smoking reduction and e-cigarette substitution programs [6, 7], in programs to reduce the harms associated with alcohol [6, 8, 9], in interventions addressing eating disorders or domestic violence [10], or with people who exchange sex for drugs, money, or material goods [11,12,13]. Nevertheless, harm reduction has not been formally incorporated into the daily repertoires of healthcare providers who aim to improve health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, nutrition) among their patients."

Hawk M, Coulter RWS, Egan JE, et al. Harm reduction principles for healthcare settings. Harm Reduct J. 2017;14(1):70. Published 2017 Oct 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-017-0196-4

5. Drug Checking Services

"A public health intervention operating for more than 50 years, drug checking services (DCS) allow the public to submit drug samples from unregulated drug markets (i.e. illegal and legal drugs sold through criminal channels) for chemical analysis. DCS emerged across the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the rise of a psychedelic counterculture that championed the use of psychoactive substances to expand consciousness [1, 2]. DCS were later expanded in European settings throughout the 1990s, beginning in the Netherlands, primarily in response to the popularity of dance events and associated use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and other drugs [3, 4]. More recently, DCS have been implemented in Australasia, the Americas and the United Kingdom, often with an emphasis on preventing harms from new psychoactive substances (NPS), including synthetic opioids. A global review of DCS conducted in 2017 identified 31 services operating across 20 countries [5]. Notably, the contamination of unregulated drug markets with fentanyl and the resulting opioid overdose crisis has motivated the recent expansion of DCS in Canada [6] and the United States [7].

"DCS provide people who use drugs (PWUD) with information on the chemical composition of their drug samples to facilitate more informed decision-making [8]. While some analysis methods can be operated by PWUD, DCS typically offer tailored harm reduction advice with the provision of analysis results to PWUD [9]. By aggregating data on the composition of drug samples, DCS provide insight into trends in the unregulated drug supply and inform policymaking and harm reduction activities at the population level [10]. DCS can inform public health alerts [11] when drugs of concern are detected, thus offering potential benefits to the broader community of PWUD and service providers [12]. DCS differ globally in terms of their legality and degree of government support, as well as where and how samples are collected and analysed. Models include mobile services at events, fixed services where samples can be dropped off or mailed and the distribution of analysis methods for personal use, all of which employ a variety of technologies with differing benefits and drawbacks [8, 13, 14]."

Maghsoudi N, Tanguay J, Scarfone K, Rammohan I, Ziegler C, Werb D, et al. Drug checking services for people who use drugs: a systematic review. Addiction. 2021;1–13.

6. Drug Checking Services: Effects on Drug Use

"Studies found that DCS [Drug Consumption Services] influenced intended behaviour and, although less researched, enacted behaviour. Among studies of PWUD [People Who Use Drugs] in party settings (referred to as ‘partygoers’ in studies), greater intention to not use the analysed substance was consistently reported if analysis results were unexpected [33, 35, 40, 42, 43, 45, 48, 52] or ‘questionable’/‘suspicious’ [49–51]. For example, a cross-sectional study from Australia (n = 83) in 2018 found partygoers were more likely to change their intention to use when analysis results were unexpected [odds ratio (OR) = 2.63, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.85–8.16] [35], as did two cross-sectional studies from Portugal (n = 310, n = 100) in 2016 and 2014 [40, 43]. Similarly, other intended behaviour changes—such as using less of a substance or seeking more information about it—were more common among partygoers when analysis results from DCS suggested that substances were ‘questionable’/‘suspicious’ [49, 51].

"The proportion of participants reporting analysis results from DCS influenced their drug use varied by population and setting. Among partygoers, 16% of participants in the Netherlands in 1996 [29], 50% in Austria in 1997–99 [37] and 87% in New Zealand (n = 47) in 2018–19 [33] reported that analysis results impacted their drug use. A cross-sectional study in 2017 from the United States among people who inject drugs (n = 125) found 43% changed their behaviour, and this was more likely when fentanyl was detected [adjusted OR (aOR) = 5.08, 95% CI = 2.12–12.17] [22]. Qualitative and longitudinal studies of young PWUD (n = 81) in the United States in 2017 supported this finding, and found that fentanyl detection was associated with positive changes in overdose risk behaviours (i.e. using less, using with others, doing a test shot) [31, 34]. Overall, and in alignment with findings on intended drug use behaviour in response to ‘questionable’/‘suspicious’ analysis results, self-reported behaviour was more likely to change when analysis results detected fentanyl. Beyond individual analysis results, a repeated cross-sectional study from Colombia (n = 1533) in 2013 and 2016 examined the influence of alerts from DCS and found that a majority of partygoers reported an impact on their behaviour [36].

"Only one study linked intended behaviours to observed health outcomes for PWUD accessing DCS. A Canadian cross-sectional study of DCS at a supervised injection site (n = 1411) in 2016–17 found that people who inject drugs were more likely to report the intention to use a smaller quantity than usual when fentanyl was detected by DCS (OR = 9.36, 95% CI = 4.25–20.65) [41]. In turn, those intending to use a smaller quantity were found to be less likely to overdose (OR = 0.41, 95% CI = 0.18–0.89) and be administered naloxone (OR = 0.38, 95% CI = 0.15–0.96).

"Disposal of the analysed substance was observed [24, 26, 27, 32, 35] or self-reported [22, 31, 34] as an outcome of DCS in eight studies. Like other behaviours, disposal was more frequent when analysis results from DCS were unexpected [24, 27, 32, 52]."

Maghsoudi N, Tanguay J, Scarfone K, Rammohan I, Ziegler C, Werb D, et al. Drug checking services for people who use drugs: a systematic review. Addiction. 2021;1–13.

7. Clean Pipe Distribution and Reduced Health Concerns

"We observed that the increase in crack pipe distribution services coincided with a corresponding increase in the uptake of crack pipes obtained through health service points only. Further, rates of reporting health problems associated with crack smoking declined significantly after the crack pipe distribution program was implemented. In the multivariable analysis, compared to obtaining crack pipes through other non-health service sources only, obtaining pipes through health service points only was significantly and negatively associated with reporting health problems from smoking crack. These findings suggest that the recent expansion of crack pipe distributions in this setting has likely served to reduce health problems experienced by crack smokers, achieving the desired outcome of the program.

"While crack users are obtaining their safe crack smoking equipment from health service points, they may also be exposed to education around safer smoking techniques and practices, by being in direct contact with service providers in the community. This may also have the benefit of exposing drug users with no connections to health care to available providers in their area [27]. A previous study of an outreach-based crack smoking kit distribution service indicated that unsafe smoking practices such as using Brillo pads and sharing crack paraphernalia remained prevalent, even after the implementation of the service [10], suggesting the importance of placing such service in a continuum of broader health service system and ensuring the availability of smoking kits to reduce risky smoking behaviours."

Prangnell, A., Dong, H., Daly, P. et al. Declining rates of health problems associated with crack smoking during the expansion of crack pipe distribution in Vancouver, Canada. BMC Public Health 17, 163 (2017).

8. Provision of Safe Smoking Equipment Reduces Negative Health Consequences

"Our findings of a reduction of health problems, are consistent with harm reduction programs for people who inject drugs [19], including needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites, where they are effective in reducing overall negative health consequences. By providing users with high-quality smoking equipment and reducing the dependence on unsafe equipment, the unintended negative consequences, including exploding pipes, burns, and inhaling brillo fragments, are further reduced."

Prangnell, A., Dong, H., Daly, P. et al. Declining rates of health problems associated with crack smoking during the expansion of crack pipe distribution in Vancouver, Canada. BMC Public Health 17, 163 (2017).

9. Data on First Two Months of Operation of First Legally Authorized Supervised Consumption Sites in the US

"Between November 30, 2021, and January 31, 2022, 613 individuals used OPC services 5975 times across 2 sites. Most individuals identified as male (78.0%), and 55.3% identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Latina. The mean (range) age was 42.5 (18-71) years. A plurality of individuals (36.9%) reported being street homeless. Fewer than one-fifth of individuals (17.8%) were living in their own rooms or apartments (Table).

"In self-reported data, the drug most commonly used across 2 sites was heroin or fentanyl (73.7%) and the most frequent route of drug administration at the OPC was injection (65.0%). Among all participants, 75.9% reported that they would have used their drugs in a public or semipublic location if OPC services had not been available (Figure).

"During the first 2 months of OPC operation, trained staff responded 125 times to mitigate overdose risk. In response to opioid-involved symptoms of overdose, naloxone was administered 19 times and oxygen 35 times, while respiration or blood oxygen levels were monitored 26 times. In response to stimulant-involved symptoms of overdose (also known as overamping), staff intervened 45 times to provide hydration, cooling, and de-escalation as needed. Emergency medical services responded 5 times, and participants were transported to emergency departments 3 times. No fatal overdoses occurred in OPCs or among individuals transported to hospitals.

"More than half of individuals using OPC services (52.5%) received additional support during their visit. This included, but was not limited to naloxone distribution, counseling, hepatitis C testing, medical care, and holistic services (eg, auricular acupuncture)."

Harocopos A, Gibson BE, Saha N, et al. First 2 Months of Operation at First Publicly Recognized Overdose Prevention Centers in US. JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(7):e2222149. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.22149

10. Services at Supervised Consumption Sites

"Increasingly, SCS are incorporating services to address the risks associated with consuming adulterated drugs from the toxic drug supply. These services include incorporating drug checking services [60, 61] and the provision of pharmaceutical grade alternatives to street drugs (e.g., safe supply) [62, 63]; although these services are largely targeted to people who use opioids and often do not address the needs of people who use stimulants [64]. As these services are relatively recent developments, they were not discussed in the included articles and therefore the extent to which they are incorporated within SCS that allow non-injection routes of consumption remains unclear. However, the current emphasis on innovative solutions to the overdose crisis [65] highlights the need for SCS to be responsive to the needs of their participants. Furthermore, the current COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of flexibility in response to the evolving needs of SCS participants [66]. People who smoke illegal drugs may be particularly at risk for complications associated with respiratory illness [67]. Many people who use drugs have been impacted by sudden closures of their SCS due to their inability to meet public health directives [68, 69], while other SCS had to reduce their capacity to meet physical distancing requirements [70]. The operational characteristics of both injection and non-injection SCS should be flexible and continuously adapted to address local needs and context."

Speed, K. A., Gehring, N. D., Launier, K., O'Brien, D., Campbell, S., & Hyshka, E. (2020). To what extent do supervised drug consumption services incorporate non-injection routes of administration? A systematic scoping review documenting existing facilities. Harm reduction journal, 17(1), 72.

11. Supervised Inhalation Facilities

"Supervised inhalation rooms (SIR) have the potential to minimise the aforementioned barriers to care and harms associated with crack cocaine smoking [12,21]. Modelled after supervised injection facilities, SIRs are regulated environments in which people can smoke pre-obtained drugs with sterile equipment under the supervision of nurses or other trained staff [22]. These facilities aim to reduce high-risk drug use practices and blood-borne infections, increase contact between PWUD and health and social services, and improve public order through reductions in public drug use [23]. To date, SIRs have been implemented in seven countries: Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain and France [24–26]. In contrast with the significant evidence of the health and community benefits of supervised injection sites, rigorous evaluation of the specific outcomes of SIRs is lacking [24,27]. However, it is plausible that many of the demonstrated health benefits associated with supervised injection sites could extend to SIRs, with available evidence suggesting that SIRs have potential to improve public order, connect PWUD with health and social services, and reduce drug-related harms [11,25]."

Cortina, S., Kennedy, M. C., Dong, H., Fairbairn, N., Hayashi, K., Milloy, M. J., & Kerr, T. (2018). Willingness to use an in-hospital supervised inhalation room among people who smoke crack cocaine in Vancouver, Canada. Drug and alcohol review, 37(5), 645–652.

12. Rhode Island Becomes First State in US to Approve Legal Establishment of Overdose Prevention Sites

"Gov. Dan McKee has signed legislation introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) that authorizes a two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses through the establishment of harm reduction centers, which are a community-based resource for health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where persons may safely consume pre-obtained substances.

"The law (2021-H 5245A, 2021-S 0016B) authorizes facilities where people may safely consume those substances under the supervision of health care professionals. It requires the approval of the city or town council of any municipality where the center would operate."

State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Harm reduction center pilot program to combat overdose deaths becomes law. News Release, July 7, 2021.

13. Quality Data Needed To Inform Efforts For Implementation Of Appropriate Services

"According to the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an estimated 11.3 million people inject drugs globally, while HIV prevalence is estimated to be 12.6% and hepatitis C prevalence 48.5% among this population. However, while 179 of 206 countries report some injecting drug use, 110 countries and territories worldwide have no data on its prevalence. This data gap highlights the need for more and higher quality data to inform our efforts to implement appropriate harm reduction services that can address public health issues, including HIV and hepatitis C, soft tissue infections, and overdose."

Harm Reduction International (2020). Global State of Harm Reduction 2020. London: Harm Reduction International.

14. Harm Reduction

"Harm reduction is a collection of concepts and strategies that can be used to reduce adverse health consequences associated with drug use [1]. Harm reduction strategies can be conceptualized as a continuum of approaches from safer drug use practices to abstinence, with an underlying core ethos of a desire to meet people where they are at. As an alternative to the “zero tolerance” abstinence-only models of addiction treatment, the harm reduction model recognizes that abstinence may not be a desirable or achievable outcome for all people who use drugs [2]. Thus, practical strategies are necessary to reduce health-related harms associated with drug use (e.g., viral transmission of Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) through shared drug use equipment, fatal and nonfatal overdose), rather than exclusively targeting drug consumption itself [3,4,5,6,7]."

Tapper, A., Ahern, C., Graveline-Long, Z. et al. The utilization and delivery of safer smoking practices and services: a narrative synthesis of the literature. Harm Reduct J 20, 160 (2023).

15. Increased Uptake of Harm Reduction Interventions Globally

"The period from 2020 to 2022 has seen increased uptake of harm reduction interventions. For the first time since 2014, the Global State of Harm Reduction has found an increase in the number of countries implementing key harm reduction services.

"This growth has been driven by new needle and syringe programmes (NSPs) opening in five African countries as well as four new countries having officially sanctioned drug consumption rooms (DCRs).a This includes a site in Mexico that had been operating without formal approval since 2018 but now has approval from local authorities. Three countries have introduced opioid agonist therapy (OAT) for the first time.

"No country has stopped the implementation of NSP, OAT [Opiate Assisted Treatment] or DCRs since 2020."

Harm Reduction International (2022). Global State of Harm Reduction 2022.

16. New York City Opens First Legally Authorized Safe Consumption Sites In US

On November 30, 2021, the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center (OPC) services in the nation have commenced in New York City. OPCs are an extension of existing harm reduction services and will be co-located with previously established syringe service providers."

According to the release:
"OPCs, also referred to as supervised consumption sites or facilities, are safe places where people who use drugs can receive medical care and be connected to treatment and social services. OPC services are proven to prevent overdose deaths, and are in use in jurisdictions around the world. There has never been an overdose death in any OPC. A Health Department feasibility study found that OPCs in New York City would save up to 130 lives a year.

"Additionally, OPCs are a benefit to their surrounding communities, reducing public drug use and syringe litter. Other places with OPCs have not seen an increase in crime, even over many years.

"OPCs will be in communities based on health need and depth of program experience. A host of City agencies will run joint operations focused on addressing street conditions across the City, and we will include an increased focus on the areas surrounding the OPCs as they open."

Office of the Mayor of the City of New York, "Mayor de Blasio Announces Nation's First Overdose Prevention Center Services to Open in New York City," City of New York, NY, Nov. 30, 2021.

17. Drug Safety Testing as a Public Health Service

"Drug safety testing (drug checking) is a public health service whereby service users receive test results for a substance of concern submitted for forensic analysis as part of a harm reduction consultation.12-14 Testing of submitted samples may be conducted onsite in rapid realtime as part of an integrated testing service, or elsewhere by a partner laboratory. Whilst these services vary widely in terms of types of consultations, forensic analyses, staffing, funding, waiting times, whether community or event-based, static or mobile, permanent or temporary, and whether the testing service is integrated or split into individual components, their shared core aim is harm reduction and their shared core service characteristic is direct user engagement. The rationale for these services is that drug-related harm can arise from the consumption of illicit psychoactive substances of unknown content and strength. Therefore, if testing services share results and other relevant information directly with service users, and potentially also other interested parties such as wider drug using communities and support services, they can communicate the risks associated with consuming that substance and enhance users' ability to make educated and informed decisions to reduce or avert future harm, protect their health and reduce the burden on health services. For stakeholders and support services, testing provides an opportunity to monitor trends in illegal drug markets and associated harms, and for alerts to be issued that are timely and accurately targeted to the appropriate drug using communities by utilising information that links composition of individual samples with what they were sold as, a distinct added value of drug safety testing.14,15 A global audit16 identified 31 such drug safety testing programmes operated by 29 organisations in 20 countries at that time, with the largest and longest standing being the Dutch Drugs Information Monitoring System,17-19 and more services have started operating since that audit."

Measham F. (2020). City checking: Piloting the UK's first community-based drug safety testing (drug checking) service in 2 city centres. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 86(3), 420–428.

18. Structural Barriers To Effective Harm Reduction Implementation

"Overarching structural problems also negatively affect access to services. Criminalisation, racism and discrimination against Indigenous, Black and brown people results in low household incomes, unemployment, food insecurity, poor housing and lower levels of education. This, in turn, results not only in worse health outcomes for these communities but also in people from these communities disengaging or actively avoiding health services.

"Women who use drugs are still frequently overlooked despite the complex harms, stigmatisation and structural violence they face. A substantial increase in gender-sensitive services is necessary to appropriately address their needs.

"For all people who use drugs, stigma and discrimination are public health issues creating barriers precisely where more support is needed. Harm reduction services are equipped to address these gaps, as non-judgmental, communitybased service delivery is among the core principles of harm reduction."

Harm Reduction International (2020). Global State of Harm Reduction 2020. London: Harm Reduction International.

19. Needle And Syringe Service Programs Worldwide

"As of 2020, 86 countries globally have at least one NSP [Needle and Syringe Program], though on the ground this has meant NSP closures and openings in several countries since 2018. Algeria opened NSPs in the Middle East and North Africa region, but in Palestine and Jordan, NSPs stopped completely; in Asia, NSPs closed in Mongolia; in sub-Saharan Africa, NSPs opened in Benin, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, while in Uganda NSPs ceased to operate. Eurasia, North America, Oceania and Western Europe remained the regions where almost all countries with reported injecting drug use implemented NSPs.[1]

"The availability of NSPs, however, does not ensure adequate coverage and accessibility. There is a large disparity in NSP implementation globally. While NSPs in Australia distribute almost 700 syringes per person who injects drugs per year, in Benin in sub-Saharan Africa, only ten syringes are given in a month to a client visiting the programme.2 In Macau, Asia, the number of NSPs has decreased since 2018, and only one NSP is still open. While NSPs are available in the majority of countries in Eurasia, there are several countries where coverage is very limited as services are implemented solely on a volunteer basis.[3,4] New estimates from India suggest that just 35 syringes (down from 250) are distributed per person who injects drugs, despite an increase in the number of NSP sites in the country. Coverage could also vary within a country. In Western Europe, for example, the coverage of NSPs in urban areas is sufficient and there are no major barriers in access, but rural areas have less coverage in many countries (e.g. Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal).[5–9] Rural populations are also underserved in both the United States and Canada, and an uneven geographical distribution of NSPs is a problem in Australia and New Zealand.[10,11]"

Harm Reduction International (2020). Global State of Harm Reduction 2020. London: Harm Reduction International.

20. Stigma And Discrimination Hinder Access To Harm Reduction Services

"Stigma and discrimination against people who inject drugs continue to exist and hinder service access in all contexts,[12–15] [16] affecting organisations implementing NSPs. In South Africa, for example, one NSP was closed in 2018 due to concerns of insufficient stakeholder consultation and the systems available for waste management.[17] Though the service was reinstated in late June 2020, programme staff have yet to reach the previous cohort of clients that had accessed the service before its closure.[18]

"In addition to geographical gaps and stigmatisation of people who inject drugs, there are groups of people who inject drugs that experience barriers to access. The lack of appropriate, gender-specific programmes for women who use drugs is a recurring issue throughout most regions. Furthermore, the needs of Indigenous people are not appropriately met in Oceania,[10,11] and there are reports of migrants who inject drugs facing barriers to accessing harm reduction services in Western Europe.[6,9,19] NSP provision for people who use stimulants is suboptimal in many regions despite the risks involved. In Western Europe, for example, stimulant injecting has been associated with local HIV outbreaks in five countries in the past five years.[20–22]"

Harm Reduction International (2020). Global State of Harm Reduction 2020. London: Harm Reduction International.

21. Few Stimulant-Specific Harm Reduction Responses Implemented Globally

"Few stimulant-specific harm reduction responses are implemented globally. Though NSPs and drug consumption rooms (DCRs) can be accessed by people who use stimulants, existing harm reduction services might not always be adequate for their needs.[34] For example, stimulant use is associated with more frequent injection than opioids, but limits in NSPs on the number of syringes that can be acquired at any one time represent a particular barrier for those injecting stimulants. Stimulants are also more likely to be smoked or inhaled than opioids, but not all DCRs permit inhalation on premises, and smoking equipment is rarely distributed. However, safer smoking kits for crack cocaine, cocaine paste and ATS are distributed in several territories, including Portugal[5][35] and harm reduction programmes for people who use non-injectable cocaine derivatives are in place in several countries in Latin America. There have been promising pilot programmes in Asia focusing on people who use methamphetamine, including outreach programmes distributing safer smoking kits, plastic straws, harm reduction education, and access to testing and treatment for HIV, hepatitis C, TB and other sexually transmitted diseases (see page 75 in Asia Chapter 2.1).

"Drug checking (services that enable people to voluntarily get the contents of their drugs analysed) is an important harm reduction intervention for people who use stimulants. These services are implemented in at least nine countries in Western Europe3, are available in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and are increasingly available in Latin America4. Eight countries in Eurasia5 have some form of drug checking services through distribution of reagent test kits at music festivals and nightlife settings. Other methods of drug checking include the use of mobile testing equipment to determine the contents of what is sold using tiny samples of the product, allowing for identification of both drugs and contaminants. Though availability of drug checking is growing globally from a low baseline, implementation faces serious legal barriers in many countries as it involves handling controlled substances, and drug checking services often require formal exemption from drug laws in order to operate legally.

"No approved substitution therapy for ATS exists, although pharmacologically-assisted treatment with methylphenidate for ATS users was authorised by the government in Czechia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Canada, the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use released interim clinical guidance recommending the prescription of dexamphetamine and methylphenidate to people who use stimulants.[36]"

Harm Reduction International (2020). Global State of Harm Reduction 2020. London: Harm Reduction International.

22. Overdose Prevention Centers, Crime, and Public Order

"Results  No significant changes were detected in violent crimes or property crimes recorded by police, 911 calls for crime or medical incidents, or 311 calls regarding drug use or unsanitary conditions observed in the vicinity of the OPCs. There was a significant decline in low-level drug enforcement, as reflected by a reduction in arrests for drug possession near the OPCs of 82.7% (95% CI, −89.9% to −70.4%) and a reduction in their broader neighborhoods of 74.5% (95% CI, −87.0% to −50.0%). Significant declines in criminal court summonses issued in the immediate vicinity by 87.9% (95% CI, −91.9% to −81.9%) and in the neighborhoods around the OPCs by 59.7% (95% CI, −73.8% to −38.0%) were observed. Reductions in enforcement were consistent with the city government’s support for the 2 OPCs, which may have resulted in a desire not to deter clients from using the sites by fear of arrest for drug possession.

"Conclusions and Relevance  In this difference-in-differences cohort study, the first 2 government-sanctioned OPCs in the US were not associated with significant changes in measures of crime or disorder. These observations suggest the expansion of OPCs can be managed without negative crime or disorder outcomes."

Chalfin A, del Pozo B, Mitre-Becerril D. Overdose Prevention Centers, Crime, and Disorder in New York City. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(11):e2342228. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.42228

23. Successful Operation of an Unsanctioned Supervised Consumption Site in the US

"In total, there were 10,514 injections and 33 opioid-involved overdoses over 5 years, all of which were reversed by naloxone administered by trained staff (Table 1). No person who overdosed was transferred to an outside medical institution, and there were no deaths. The number of overdoses increased over the years of operation, due partially to the number of injections increasing over the same period of time (Fig. S1 in the Supplementary Appendix). The types of drugs used at the site changed over the 5 years of operation, with a steady increase in the proportion of injections involving the combination of opioids and stimulants, from 5% in 2014 to 60% in 2019 (Fig. S2).

"Although this evaluation was limited to one city and one site that is unsanctioned, and therefore the findings cannot be generalized, our results suggest that implementing sanctioned safe consumption sites in the United States could reduce mortality from opioid-involved overdose. Sanctioning sites could allow persons to link to other medical and social services, including treatment for substance use, and facilitate rigorous evaluation of their implementation and effect on reducing problems such as public injection of drugs and improperly discarded syringes."

Kral, Alex H., Lambdin, Barrot H., Wenger, Lynn D., Davidson, Pete J. Evaluation of an Unsanctioned Safe Consumption Site in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine. July 8, 2020. 10.1056/NEJMc2015435.

24. Injection Drug Use Globally and in North America

"Globally, there are nearly 15.6 million people (aged 15–64) who inject drugs (PWID), with an estimated 2.6 million PWID in North America (Degenhardt et al., 2017). Canada and the United States (US) have both seen significant increases in the rate of injection drug use, as well as a rise in the rate of infections and fatal overdose related to injection drug use (Jacka et al., 2020; Levitt et al., 2020). The risk of fatal overdose significantly increases when people inject drugs alone, and may be prevented with timely intervention (i.e. administration of naloxone, an overdose prevention medication) (Colledge et al., 2019). There is also an increased risk of disease transmission (e.g. HIV, hepatitis) and serious infections associated with injecting drugs, which are often related to using unsterile equipment, injecting in unhygienic settings, or rushed injections (Colledge et al., 2019). The increase in injection drug use and the risks associated with using alone, in unhygienic or unsupervised settings necessitate the need for services that support safe injection practices among PWID."

Sarah J. Dow-Fleisner, Arielle Lomness, Lucía Woolgar, Impact of safe consumption facilities on individual and community outcomes: A scoping review of the past decade of research, Emerging Trends in Drugs, Addictions, and Health, Volume 2, 2022, 100046, ISSN 2667-1182,

25. Pipe Sharing and Disease Risk

"Crack users often use and share pipes made of various makeshift materials, including broken glass pipes, metal tubing, aluminum cans, car antennas, or glass ginseng bottles, all of which can cause cuts, sores, burns, and blisters in and around the user’s mouth (Faruque et al., 1996; Porter & Bonilla, 1993; Porter, Bonilla, & Drucker, 1997; Shannon, Kerr et al., 2008). A number of recent studies point to nonIDU equipment sharing as possible routes of infectious disease transmission (Fischer, Powis, Firestone-Cruz, Rudzinski, & Rehm, 2008; Macias et al., 2008; McMahon & Tortu, 2003; Roy et al., 2001; Shannon, Rusch et al. 2008: Tortu, Neaigus, McMahon, & Hagen, 2001). In a study of drug users with no history of drug injection, Tortu et al. (2004) found noninjection drug use equipment sharing to be a risk factor for HCV infection, suggesting that HCV transmission may occur through noninjection routes such as oral and intranasal drug use methods. This is particularly concerning given that HCV is almost 30 times more infective that HIV through blood contact (Sulkowski & Thomas, 2003)."

Ivsins, A., Roth, E., Benoit, C., & Fischer, B. (2013). Crack Pipe Sharing in Context: How Sociostructural Factors Shape Risk Practices among Noninjection Drug Users. Contemporary Drug Problems, 40(4), 481–503.

26. Drug Checking in the US and Other Countries

"Drug checking, or the use of technology to provide insight into the contents of illicit drug products, is an evidence-based strategy for overdose prevention [10,11,12,13,14]. Drug checking services of various kinds have been operating across Europe and North America for several decades, with an estimated 31 services operational in 20 countries by 2017 [15]. In the United States, the use and distribution of fentanyl test strips is a relatively new but increasingly common drug checking strategy employed by SSPs and other programs, typically provided alongside harm reduction materials like sterile syringes and naloxone [16]. More complex technologies, like portable spectrometry devices, have been used for drug checking in several European countries since at least the 1990s [15] yet are only now emerging as an approach to drug checking in the United States [17,18,19]."

Carroll, J.J., Mackin, S., Schmidt, C. et al. The Bronze Age of drug checking: barriers and facilitators to implementing advanced drug checking amidst police violence and COVID-19. Harm Reduct J 19, 9 (2022).

27. Methods of Heroin Use: Smoking Compared With Injecting

"People who use heroin (PWUH) have increased morbidity and mortality compared to the general population [1]. A syndemic of opioid overdose, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI), and infective endocarditis accounts for many of the poor health outcomes among PWUH [2,3,4,5]. Heroin can be consumed in several ways, including injection and smoking [6]. High-risk injection behaviors, including syringe sharing and reuse of non-sterile injection equipment, are established routes of HIV and HCV transmission and increase risk of SSTI and infective endocarditis [7,8,9]. Opioid overdose is a common cause of mortality among PWUH, with higher overdose risk among those who inject [10,11,12].

"Because smoking heroin does not injure the skin or introduce non-sterile equipment into blood or tissue, this method of consumption does not entail the same risk of blood-borne infections or SSTI compared to injection. While similar pharmacological effects can be achieved by smoking or injecting heroin, peak plasma concentrations are 2–4 times lower when heroin is smoked, which may reduce risk of lethal opioid overdose [13, 14]. Programs that encourage PWUH to transition from injecting to smoking heroin may decrease injection frequency and thereby reduce harms associated with heroin use, including risks of infection and overdose [15]. Distribution of smoking equipment may also help PWUH avoid using pipes fashioned from cans or other poor-quality materials that easily crack or overheat, thereby reducing risk of developing burns or cuts on the lips that can serve as sites of infection [16,17,18]. Pipe distribution programs may also reduce pipe sharing, a risk behavior potentially associated with respiratory virus or HCV transmission [17,18,19,20]."

Fitzpatrick, T., McMahan, V.M., Frank, N.D. et al. Heroin pipe distribution to reduce high-risk drug consumption behaviors among people who use heroin: a pilot quasi-experimental study. Harm Reduct J 19, 103 (2022).

28. Methods of Heroin Use Before and After Distribution of Smoking Equipment

"In this pilot pretest–posttest quasi-experimental study, we saw a lower proportion of SSP clients exclusively inject heroin and a higher proportion of SSP clients consume heroin through both injection and smoking after the implementation of a heroin pipe distribution program. The proportion of SSP clients who reported syringe reuse was also lower following the heroin pipe distribution intervention. We did not observe any difference in self-reported health outcomes associated with drug use between the pre- and post-intervention periods; however, the short follow-up period and small sample size of this pilot study may have contributed to this null finding. Our results suggest heroin pipe distribution may be a novel RTI that can be added to existing SSPs to further reduce harms associated with heroin use. This study also highlights the potential for public health service innovations to be developed by marginalized communities and the importance of placing PWUD in leadership positions in efforts to optimize harm reduction programming.

"Despite the non-randomized design of this pilot study, several findings suggest heroin pipe distribution may have prompted changes in heroin consumption behaviors among PWUH. The proportion of SSP clients who exclusively injected heroin was lower by a quarter, while the proportion who both injected and smoked heroin was higher by over a quarter after heroin pipe distribution began. Twenty-four percent of respondents who used heroin reported heroin pipe distribution had reduced their heroin injection. Higher proportions of SSP clients who received heroin pipes exclusively smoked heroin or both smoked and injected heroin compared to SSP clients who did not receive a heroin pipe. We are unaware of any prior published research investigating heroin pipes as an RTI; however, pre–post-analyses examining foil distribution at SSPs in Europe found similar changes in drug consumption behaviors, with up to 85% of SSP clients having used foil to inhale rather than inject heroin on at least one occasion [23, 28]. Our non-randomized study design cannot control for confounding and prevents firm conclusions as to whether this observed shift from injection to smoking can be attributed to the intervention. Additionally, only 14% of respondents who used heroin completed surveys during both the pre- and post-intervention periods, and thus, outcomes may have been impacted by changes in the SSP client population across time periods. Further experimental research is needed to clarify the causal relationship between heroin pipe distribution and reductions in heroin injection. Study designs that are randomized by individual may be complicated by heroin pipe sharing across intervention and control groups. Cluster randomization may better control for contamination given extensive social networks and resource exchange among PWUD [29]."

Fitzpatrick, T., McMahan, V.M., Frank, N.D. et al. Heroin pipe distribution to reduce high-risk drug consumption behaviors among people who use heroin: a pilot quasi-experimental study. Harm Reduct J 19, 103 (2022).

29. Evidence on Safe Consumption Sites

"SCS are a core part of a public health response to an unprecedented poisoning epidemic that has resulted in 36,442 opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and December 2022, driven largely by the production and trafficking of novel illegally manufactured opioids (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021). SCS provide monitored spaces where people can consume drugs without risk of criminal sanction, receive emergency health care if needed, and access sterile harm reduction supplies and health and social supports (Health Canada, 2020). The number of federally sanctioned SCS in Canada increased from two in 2016 to a peak of 42 in 2020 (Health Canada, 2020). Additionally, more than 40 overdose prevention sites—a low-threshold form of SCS meeting an immediate community need and requiring less pre-implementation consultation—have opened in Canada since 2016. Collectively, these services have prevented and managed thousands of drug poisoning events and saved thousands of lives (Irvine et al., 2019).

"SCS are designed to reduce health and social risks, including risks associated with using drugs alone amid a toxic drug supply crisis. They also provide social support for structurally vulnerable populations who experience barriers to accessing health care (Kennedy et al., 2017). A substantial body of peer-reviewed research demonstrates the positive impacts of SCS. A systematic review by Kennedy et al. (with findings later corroborated by Levengood et al.) synthesized 47 studies from Vancouver, Australia, Germany, Denmark, Spain, and the Netherlands (Kennedy et al., 2017; Levengood et al., 2021). Studies adopted a mix of prospective cohort, time series or pre/post ecological, cross-sectional, mathematical simulation, or series cross-sectional designs and the majority were assessed to have good methodological quality. The review found that SCS mitigate drug poisoning–related harm and unsafe drug use practices, facilitate uptake of substance use treatment and other health services, are associated with improvements in public order (e.g., reductions in publicly discarded syringes), do not increase drug-related crime, and are cost-effective. A subsequent modelling study estimated that British Columbia’s overdose prevention sites averted 230 deaths in a 20-month period (Irvine et al., 2019). A study from Calgary, Alberta, found significant health system cost-savings arising from decreases in opioid-related ambulance responses and emergency department visits following the implementation of an SCS (Khair et al., 2022)."

Salvalaggio, G., Brooks, H., Caine, V. et al. Flawed reports can harm: the case of supervised consumption services in Alberta. Can J Public Health (2023).

30. History of Drug Checking

"The adulteration of illicit drugs is not a new phenomenon, with evidence of it occurring as early as the 1930s (Morgan, 1982). Ecstasy, in particular, has a long history of adulteration (Hayner, 2002; Morelato et al., 2014; Verweij, 1992) which has been exacerbated in recent years by the emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS; ~900 identified to date, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2019). The composition of drugs sold as MDMA/Ecstasy/Molly in particular varies substantially over time and across countries (Brunt et al., 2017) – currently, adulterated ecstasy remains a concern in North America and Australia (primarily among nightclub and dance festival attendees; Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, 2019; Mohr, Friscia, Yeakel & Logan, 2018; Palamar et al., 2017), while high dose/purity ecstasy is dominating the European market (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2019). Drugs adulterated with fentanyl and its analogs are now of particular concern in the US as tens of thousands of people are now dying in the US per year from fentanyl exposure (Scholl, Seth, Kariisa, Wilson & Baldwin, 2018) and it is likely that many of these deaths result from unknown exposure (Ciccarone, Ondocsin & Mars, 2017). To mitigate the risks associated with consuming unregulated substances, drug-checking services have been operating for decades, whereby individuals submit drug samples to have the contents identified and analyzed for purity (Barratt, Kowalski, Maier & Ritter, 2018; Brunt, 2017; Renfroe, 1986). A global review of drug checking services operating in 2017 identified 31 services, three of which were operating in North America: DanceSafe, EcstasyData, and ANKORS (Barratt, Kowalski et al., 2018). These services reported using reagent tests kits, often in combination with other methodologies, including thin layer chromatography and gas chromatography mass spectrometry (Harper, Powell & Pijl, 2017).

"In addition to formal drug-checking services, the use of personal reagent test kits appears to be relatively common (i.e., ‘informal’ drug checking). A recent study estimated that over one-fifth (23%) of past-year ecstasy consumers in New York City had tested (or had someone test) their ecstasy using a drug testing kit in the past year (Palamar & Barratt, 2019). Similarly, a study of ecstasy consumers in Australia found that 22% reported personal use of testing kits (Johnston et al., 2006). However, while numerous studies have explored the prevalence, acceptability, and behavioral outcomes associated with both formal and informal drug checking (e.g., Barratt, Bruno, Ezard & Ritter, 2018; Day et al., 2018; Goldman et al., 2019; Measham, 2019), little attention has been devoted to understanding the role and broader experiences of ‘drug-checkers’ (i.e., people who test their own and/or other people’s substances). As such it remains unknown who is testing drugs, the motivations for doing so, and what barriers they may experience. This omission is particularly concerning given that many of these individuals are volunteers, operating in environments which are fraught with political and legal challenges (Barratt, Kowalski et al., 2018), and may be taking a considerable personal risk in providing such services."

Palamar, J. J., Acosta, P., Sutherland, R., Shedlin, M. G., & Barratt, M. J. (2019). Adulterants and altruism: A qualitative investigation of "drug checkers" in North America. The International journal on drug policy, 74, 160–169.

31. Smoking Drugs and Harm Reduction

"Findings show that smoking drugs is a popular route of administration among people who use drugs and evidence from this review suggests that expanding access to safer smoking within harm reduction services is crucial to risk mitigation. Within the studies included in this review, most study participants, including people who smoke drugs, peers, and service providers, believed safer smoking services to be a necessary harm reduction intervention, especially when considered in relation to existing safer injection services [39, 40, 42,43,44, 51, 54, 56, 63, 64, 67, 68]. Further, across studies, people who use drugs reported a high willingness to utilize these services, and in places where services were offered, many studies reported high utilization of safer smoking services. Additionally, although efficacy data were limited, across studies, people who use drugs reported decreasing their injection drug use in favor of smoking, reducing the sharing of smoking equipment, and in some cases improved health outcomes (e.g., decreased burns and cuts). Despite the clear benefits of safer smoking practices, some people who use drugs and service providers reported ongoing barriers to accessing and delivering these services, respectively. Findings underscore the need for ongoing research and structural interventions to increase access to safer smoking programs and reduce drug use related morbidity and mortality.

"This is a burgeoning area of research, which we expect to grow and evolve as policies shift, more funding becomes available for the inclusion of safer smoking kits into harm reduction service offerings, and the benefits of these practices become more well known. In fact, since the time that this search was conducted, a new study was published in May 2023 that showed high interest in using safer smoking materials, with participants believing it would reduce their injection use of drugs. As additional studies are published, including those that are based on higher quality evidence, we anticipate a need to update this review in future years [70].

"Despite evidence that smoking has benefits over injecting [39, 40, 42,43,44, 51, 54, 56, 63, 64, 67, 68], across studies, people who use drugs report programs providing safer smoking materials are a minority among harm reduction organizations globally. Ongoing work is needed to incorporate safer smoking materials into the services provided by existing harm reduction organizations. The studies reviewed here provide evidence of the presence of peer workers who are part of these communities as people with lived experience and found peers to be integral in engaging people who use drugs and assisting them with changing their practices. Further outreach to educate people who use drugs about smoking as a harm reduction practice is necessary, including the nuanced benefits and risks associated with it."

Tapper, A., Ahern, C., Graveline-Long, Z. et al. The utilization and delivery of safer smoking practices and services: a narrative synthesis of the literature. Harm Reduct J 20, 160 (2023).

32. The Future of Drug Policies in the EU

"Some participants noted that in their country there was a move towards greater recognition of the need for public health-oriented approaches to tackle drug problems accompanied by a shift in the goals of drug policies towards reducing drug-related harms. However, the relatively limited set of indicators that has historically been used to evaluate drug policy may have limited utility for informing on outcomes relevant to this perspective. Some drug policy experts have argued, for example, that a preoccupation with drug use prevalence as a primary outcome measure for drug policy is problematic, as it does not sufficiently consider the complexity of patterns of use or harms, nor distinguish sufficiently between different forms of drug use and the harm attributed to them. Taken together, trends suggest that moving towards drug policies that accentuate targeted approaches to reducing drug harms necessitates concomitant shifts in the focus and priorities of drug monitoring and evaluation systems. This would imply giving greater attention to indicators that monitor harm. In addition, approaches which can more holistically consider different patterns of use and how these may interact are likely to be necessary for informing future drug policy evaluations (Rhodes, 2019).

"A drug policy shift towards a focus on harms to target responses may also be accompanied by arguments for drug law reform. It is argued for example that there is evidence that suggests the criminalisation of drugs can increase some health, social and economic harms. Accordingly, there is a momentum towards seeking alternatives to criminalisation for simple possession and greater consideration in policy discourse on the possible unintended negative consequences of different policy options (Rhodes, 2019)."

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2023), The future of drug monitoring in Europe until 2030, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

33. Drug Checking as a Market Intervention

"This research sought the perspectives of people involved in the unregulated drug market on how drug checking could be implemented as a market intervention within the current context of a highly unpredictable drug supply and unprecedented rates of overdose. Currently, drug checking is positioned as a public health intervention promoted to people who use drugs within supervised consumption sites while being averse to aiding people who sell or produce drugs. Drug checking does not need to be limited to an individual-level behavioral intervention targeted at the end user of a substance, but holds the potential to also function as a supply-side intervention within the drug market linked to overdose. However, careful consideration is needed to design and deliver appropriate drug checking services within the context of the criminalization of substances and the drug market. The demand for quality and product assurance within the illicit supply may operate as a potential driving force to facilitate drug checking and we identified several novel strategies to this end; however, there are also significant implementation challenges.

"We heard that criminalization was the most critical barrier to accessing drug checking services for those within the supply chain. While unsurprising, there are particular considerations and intervention design factors to be addressed to engage sellers and potentially function at a market level. Overall, the benefits of drug checking services need to ensure high-quality services that enable quality products, provided by knowledgeable peers and scientists, and establish trust and safety to outweigh the risks of arrest for accessing services. Promoting drug checking for marketing quality products may be more successful than relying on traditional health promotion messages. Safer settings within the context of criminalization are critical and yet not clearly defined and vary depending on the person and context. Trust was identified as central to successful implementation and may be enhanced through engaging peers and word of mouth."

Bruce Wallace, Thea van Roode, Piotr Burek, Bernadette Pauly & Dennis Hore (2022) Implementing drug checking as an illicit drug market intervention within the supply chain in a Canadian setting, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, DOI: 10.1080/09687637.2022.2087487

34. Harm Reduction Principles and Practices

"Historically, harm reduction principles are actualized when individuals and groups take sometimes illegal measures to protect their communities. Once systemic structures recognize the value in these practices, they might become decriminalized and widely supported by public health institutions. As an example, supervised consumption sites have been created; these are spaces where individuals can use drugs in a sterile and monitored space with access to supplies and care. Legalized in certain European nations, Canada, and Australia, supervised consumption sites in the U.S. operated quietly and against the law [8]. With increased evaluations published globally, and within the country on unsanctioned supervised consumption sites [9], we see increased receptiveness in academic circles. In the U.S., this illicit practice of providing safe spaces to consume drugs recently gained popular ground with Rhode Island becoming the first state to legalize supervised consumption sites [10], and OnPoint in New York City opening the first SCS in the U.S. [11]. Other recent innovations in public health lifted up by the advocacy of people who use drugs include drug checking and safer smoking initiatives."

Tapper, A., Ahern, C., Graveline-Long, Z. et al. The utilization and delivery of safer smoking practices and services: a narrative synthesis of the literature. Harm Reduct J 20, 160 (2023).

35. Drug Checking Services

"One of the consequences of drug prohibition is the lack of knowledge regarding the composition and purity of illicit substances (Miron, 2003; Taylor et al., 2016). This information gap poses significant risks to individuals who consume drugs, as they lack knowledge of the contents which can lead to physical harm (Darke & Farrell, 2014; Unick et al., 2014). In the context of harm reduction, drug checking has emerged as a strategy to address this issue. Drug checking programs aim to provide consumers with accurate and timely information about the content and potential harms associated with the substances they intend to consume (Maghsoudi et al., 2022). Drug checking was traditionally designed to provide harm reduction services and information about illicit substances in party scenes, however, the remit of drug checking has expanded significantly (see Barratt & Measham, 2022). Drug checking programs can be traced back to the late 1960s in the United States (Barratt et al., 2018). According to a recent systematic review, these programs have expanded globally and are now implemented in many countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France, Australia, and Canada (Colledge-Frisby et al., 2023).

"Drug checking initiatives seek to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their drug use (Weicker et al., 2020). These programs typically involve analysing drug samples using various methods, such as spectrometry or reagent testing, to identify the presence of specific substances and potential adulterants as well as dosage or strength (Barratt & Measham, 2022). The provision of drug testing results to consumers provides some information about the potential risks associated with their drug use (Barratt & Measham, 2022), although it is important to note that these results may not encompass all possible risks due to limitations in testing methodologies and the multifaceted nature of drug-related harms (Masterton et al., 2022). Risks associated with drug use can be influenced by various factors, including the environment and co-substance consumption, which may significantly impact the overall risk profile beyond the specific drug content or purity (Masterton et al., 2022). However, the implementation of drug checking programs has shown positive outcomes and increased safety among drug consumers in jurisdictions where it has been applied (Bardwell & Kerr, 2018; Measham, 2019). Feasibility studies indicate acceptance and willingness among consumer populations to engage with these services (Kennedy et al., 2018; Krieger et al., 2018; Palamar et al., 2019; Sherman et al., 2019). The positive reception among consumer populations to engage with these services align with the call for widely accessible harm reduction measures."

Piatkowski T, Puljevic C, Francis C, Ferris J, Dunn M. "They sent it away for testing and it was all bunk": Exploring perspectives on drug checking among steroid consumers in Queensland, Australia. Int J Drug Policy. 2023 Jul 21;119:104139. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104139. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37481876.

36. Rapid Analysis of Drugs (RAD)

"RAD involves a four-step process. First, wearing gloves, SSP staff members wipe or swab used drug paraphernalia received from registered SSP participants. Each individual wipe or swab is then placed into a small paper envelope that is collected in a larger mailing envelope (2). Program staff members administered a deidentified questionnaire simultaneously with paraphernalia sample collection and linked the questionnaire and sample with a unique barcode number.§§ Second, samples are mailed to NIST in accordance with U.S. Postal Service regulations. Third, samples are extracted and analyzed using direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS), a rapid ambient ionization mass spectrometry screening technique capable of analyzing a sample in seconds and detecting more than 1,100 drugs, cutting agents, and related substances¶¶ (3). Fourth, within 48 hours, NIST reports substances identified in each sample to CHRS and SSPs.*** SSPs are then responsible for sharing individual results back to the participant who submitted the sample. This activity was reviewed by CDC and was conducted consistent with applicable federal law and CDC policy.†††

"During November 19, 2021–August 31, 2022, staff members from eight SSPs asked program participants for permission to collect a sample from their used paraphernalia for drug testing and to complete a questionnaire about the drugs they had intended to purchase. A total of 496 paraphernalia samples were collected. For 248 (50.0%) of these samples, the program participant completed the questionnaire. No overdoses occurred on-site during sampling. The five most common types of paraphernalia tested, accounting for 95.7% of samples, were plastic bags (54.8%), cookers (16.3%), capsules (11.7%), vials (6.9%), and pipes or straws (6.0%). Among the 496 samples, one or more opioids were detected in 367 (74.0%) and cocaine in 77 (15.5%); none of the screened drugs were detected in 26 (5.2%) samples. Among the 367 opioid-positive samples, 363 (98.9%) contained fentanyl, 23 (6.3%) fluorofentanyl, and six (1.6%) fentanyl carbamate. One sample contained fluorofentanyl only; all other fentanyl analogs (e.g., fluorofentanyl and fentanyl carbamate) were also detected with fentanyl. Nonfentanyl opioids were detected infrequently: heroin (1.9%), tramadol (1.6%), methadone (0.5%), and protonitazene (0.3%). Among samples positive for fentanyl or a fentanyl analog (364), 84.4% had at least one other stimulant, sedative, or benzodiazepine detected: 293 (80.5%) had xylazine, 23 (6.3%) cocaine, 10 (2.7%) synthetic cathinones, six (1.6%) benzodiazepines, and three (0.8%) amphetamines (Figure)."

Russell E, Sisco E, Thomson A, et al. Rapid Analysis of Drugs: A Pilot Surveillance System To Detect Changes in the Illicit Drug Supply To Guide Timely Harm Reduction Responses — Eight Syringe Services Programs, Maryland, November 2021–August 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:458–462. DOI:

37. Stimulants, Cutting Agents, and False Positives on Fentanyl Test Strips

"In a harm reduction setting, a FTS might be used to test the drug residue in a cooker or baggie for fentanyl before use of the drug. Our results show that the concentrations of diphenhydramine, methamphetamine, and MDMA commonly found in street drugs are at levels that could generate false positives on the FTS. Many cookers and small baggies hold about 0.75–1 mL of water. If we assume there is 5 mg of methamphetamine in the container that is diluted with 1 mL of water, the concentration of methamphetamine will be 5 mg/mL and would trigger a false positive on the FTS. If the residue were dissolved with 10 mL of water, the methamphetamine concentration would be 0.5 mg/mL and would render a true negative on the FTS. If the drug residue instead consisted of 95% methamphetamine and 5% fentanyl, the 10 mL dilution would ensure that the methamphetamine concentration would not interfere with the FTS while the true positive result would come from the fentanyl present in the sample. As practical guidance for harm reduction groups, a dilution with at least 50 mL of water will provide a good margin of error for accurate detection of fentanyl in cooker or powder residues while avoiding false positives from other drugs. Over dilution is not a likely problem; the FTS is sensitive enough that if there was just 0.5 mg of fentanyl residue in a cooker and it is dissolved in a 10-L bucket of water (50 µg/L or 50 ng/mL), the FTS will still detect the fentanyl present."

Lockwood, TL.E., Vervoordt, A. & Lieberman, M. High concentrations of illicit stimulants and cutting agents cause false positives on fentanyl test strips. Harm Reduct J 18, 30 (2021).

38. Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS)

"The Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS) is the country's first statewide community drug checking program. Founded on public health-public safety partnerships, MADDS collects remnant drug packaging and paraphernalia with residue from people who use drugs and noncriminal samples from partnering police departments. MADDS tests samples using simultaneous immunoassay fentanyl test strips, Fourier-transform infrared spectrometry (FTIR), and off-site laboratory testing by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Results are accessible to community programs and municipalities, while trend analyses inform public health for cross-site alerts and informational bulletins.


"MADDS was launched statewide in 2020 and rapidly expanded to a multisite program. Program staff approached communities and met with municipal police and community partners to secure written agreements to host drug checking. Community partners designed sample collection consistent with their pandemic era workflows. Consultations with stakeholders gathered feedback on design and deliverables.


"The program tests sample donations on-site from community agencies and police departments, incorporates review by a medical toxicologist for health and safety concerns, crafts stakeholder-specific communications, and disseminates English, Spanish, and Portuguese language materials. For 2020, a total of 427 samples were tested, of which 47.1% were positive for fentanyl. By early 2021, MADDS detected shifts in cocaine purity, alerted communities of a new toxic fentanyl analogue and a synthetic cannabinoid contaminant, and confirmed the increase of xylazine (a veterinary sedative) in Massachusetts.


"Community drug checking programs can be collaboratively designed with public health and public safety to generate critical health and safety information for people who use drugs and the communities where they live."

Green, T. C., Olson, R., Jarczyk, C., Erowid, E., Erowid, F., Thyssen, S., Wightman, R., Del Pozo, B., Michelson, L., Consigli, A., Reilly, B., & Ruiz, S. (2022). Implementation and Uptake of the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream: A Statewide Public Health-Public Safety Partnership Drug Checking Program. Journal of public health management and practice : JPHMP, 28(Suppl 6), S347–S354.

39. Drug Checking

"Results from samples expected to be stimulants were divergent between testing groups. Crystal methamphetamine samples tested using take-home drug checking were reported as fentanyl positive more often than on-site samples (27.6% vs. 5.2%). The same pattern was seen for cocaine samples tested using take-home drug checking (17.2% vs. 1.1%). However, the study was underpowered to evaluate equivalence between these testing groups. A small portion of the test strips (3.8%) yielded an unclear or illegible response. It is unclear what the participants did in these cases, but the inclusion of multiple test strips would have allowed for repeat testing.

"Notably, when the results of take-home drug checking were stratified based on previous experience with fentanyl test strips, there was a trend towards a smaller difference between the results of take-home drug checking and on-site drug checking. For opioids, when only results from those who were using fentanyl test strips for the first time were included, there was a difference of 1.6% between take-home drug checking and on-site drug checking. This difference was reduced to 0.6% when only including samples from those who had self-reported prior experience with using fentanyl test strips. Similar results were seen for crystal methamphetamine (28.9% to 15.2%) and cocaine (28.3% to 7.8%)."

Klaire, S., Janssen, R. M., Olson, K., Bridgeman, J., Korol, E. E., Chu, T., Ghafari, C., Sabeti, S., Buxton, J. A., & Lysyshyn, M. (2022). Take-home drug checking as a novel harm reduction strategy in British Columbia, Canada. The International journal on drug policy, 106, 103741.

40. Fentanyl Test Strips

"In order to help prevent overdoses, lateral flow immunoassay test strips originally designed for monitoring traces of fentanyl and its analogs in urine are being explored as a drug checking technology in harm reduction contexts [17,18,19,20]. One commonly used fentanyl test strip or “FTS” (BTNX Inc., Markham, ON, Canada) is a lateral flow chromatographic immunoassay for the qualitative detection of fentanyl in urine at the cutoff concentration of 20 ng/mL. A positive result on this test strip gives one line, a negative result gives two lines, and an invalid test gives either no line or no control line [21]. The “off label” use of the FTS in a harm reduction context involves preparation of a solution of the drug to be checked. For example, the residue in a cooker or baggie may be dissolved in a little water and then tested with the FTS. BTNX Inc. provides information about specificity of their test strip response, but for fentanyl 20 ng/mL FTS, the only drugs tested were fentanyl (detected at 20 ng/mL in urine) and norfentanyl (detected at 375 ng/mL in urine). In addition, a suite of pharmaceuticals were found to be non-interfering at levels of 100 ug/mL in a urine matrix [21, 22]. We have found that common stimulants and cutting agents that are often present in illicit drugs can create false positives. The problem arises from the cross-reactivity of the antibody for these other substances [23]. Although the affinity of the antibody for these substances is much lower than for fentanyl, if they are present at sufficiently high concentrations, they can cause a false positive result [24, 25]. As we consider the 4th wave of the pandemic, it can be expected that drug users will need to test stimulants to see if they contain fentanyl."

Lockwood, TL.E., Vervoordt, A. & Lieberman, M. High concentrations of illicit stimulants and cutting agents cause false positives on fentanyl test strips. Harm Reduct J 18, 30 (2021).

41. Drug Checking Study In Vancouver, BC

"Based on our findings, distributed fentanyl test strips would be reliable for the testing of samples identified as opioids and should be more widely distributed. There is growing evidence that fentanyl test strips may help prevent overdose when included with other evidence-based strategies (Peiper, 2019). Other informal techniques such as visual inspection of a substance have been applied by PWUD, but may not be effective in substances that contain traces of fentanyl (Peiper et al., 2019). Our study situated fentanyl test strips within sites that provide naloxone kits, drug use supplies such as syringes, supervised consumption of substances, and drug checking using both test strips and more sophisticated technologies. In contrast to the potential for behaviour change from drug checking results, analysis of several cohort studies within Vancouver during the period of increasing fentanyl contamination in late 2016 showed that a majority of PWUD did not change their drug use behaviours nor translate the knowledge of a changing drug supply to an increased risk of overdose (Brar et al., 2020; Moallef et al., 2019). These findings indicate the need for targeted education and harm reduction interventions for those at risk. Distribution of testing supplies provides an opportunity for further engagement. In BC, an expansion of this pilot program, including continuation at sites included in this evaluation, has occurred to distribute fentanyl test strips labelled with instructions for use. Notably, the described positive behaviour changes rely on an individual possessing knowledge around safer ways to use substances, including knowledge around using a small amount (“test dosing”) and using with others or not alone to avoid overdose and allow for naloxone administration. Furthermore, participants identified using at an OPS/SCS as a potential behaviour, which necessitates that these services exist. Our findings around behaviour change in response to a positive fentanyl result underscore the need for comprehensive harm reduction services and education."

Klaire, S., Janssen, R. M., Olson, K., Bridgeman, J., Korol, E. E., Chu, T., Ghafari, C., Sabeti, S., Buxton, J. A., & Lysyshyn, M. (2022). Take-home drug checking as a novel harm reduction strategy in British Columbia, Canada. The International journal on drug policy, 106, 103741.

42. Drug Checking and US Law

"Perhaps our most significant finding is that all of this SSP’s success in implementing drug checking was achieved in spite of, rather than thanks to, the legal and policy environment in which it operates. The COVID-19 pandemic made drug checking practically impossible, but only after systematic police violence against participants and threats against staff had already curtailed provision of this harm reduction service. Indeed, it is likely that drug checking could have persisted during the pandemic absent the very real risk of police interference. This finding mirrors that of qualitative pre-implementation studies of drug checking services in Canada and the United States, which found the criminalization and stigmatization of substance use to be the most likely barriers to implementation [31, 32].

"There is clear, scholarly consensus that law enforcement and criminal justice responses to substance use exacerbate—and sometimes even generate—the individual-level harms of substance use [37,38,39,40,41,42]. This study demonstrates in striking terms how essential harm reduction organizations are equally vulnerable to the misguided, punitive responses so often directed at the people they serve. Policymakers have not sufficiently protected harm reduction efforts from state violence. Stricter, more reliable, more enforceable protections against the impacts of drug criminalization are desperately needed. De-criminalization of substance use remains an effective strategy for resolving these and other related concerns [43, 44].

"Another barrier was the ambiguous legal status of drug checking activities. Some states have enacted laws that unambiguously legalize the distribution of fentanyl test strips but fail to clarify the legal status of using advanced technologies like portable spectroscopy devices for the same purpose (examples include Illinois Public Act 101–0356 and North Carolina § 90–113.22). As of May, 2021, at least 10 U.S. states had legislation pending that would create a legal framework for some drug checking activities [45]. In light of the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explicitly endorsed community drug checking by permitting grantees to spend federal funds on fentanyl test strips [46], any absence of a legal framework for making use of those technologies, including in Massachusetts where this study took place, is particularly glaring. This study demonstrates the importance of providing a clear legal framework for community drug checking with any technology."

Carroll, J.J., Mackin, S., Schmidt, C. et al. The Bronze Age of drug checking: barriers and facilitators to implementing advanced drug checking amidst police violence and COVID-19. Harm Reduct J 19, 9 (2022).

43. Drug Checking and Fentanyl

"Globally, community drug checking programs (CDCPs) allow people to submit drug samples for chemical analysis. The results are shared with the donating individual or organization for their health and safety.3,4 Data about the samples help drug supply monitoring and constitute a valid, nonduplicative source of information.4,5 While this strategy is an established harm-reduction tool in Europe,4 it is a new endeavor in the United States. Permissions to use federal funds to distribute immunoassay fentanyl test strips (FTS) came in 2021, indicating support for expansion of drug checking to detect fentanyl and raise community awareness of this approach.6,7

"Determining whether drug samples contain IMF or analogues can help mitigate consumers' risk of overdose and promote safety interventions.813 One study found substantial changes in overdose safety and drug use behaviors following FTS utilization.14 Our 3-city FORECAST Study found that many people who use drugs (PWUD) do not prefer drugs containing IMF13 and 39% employ practices to reduce risk, given unknown drug purity and content,15 suggesting advantages to disseminating drug checking results and harm-reducing messages.16 Drug checking with FTS and a handful of comprehensive CDCPs have been implemented in the United States alongside activities such as syringe service programs (SSPs),17 but no CDCPs operate as both a harm-reduction service and a drug supply monitoring program in the United States, and none globally integrate public safety partnerships or test noncriminal drug samples from police. We describe the approach and initial uptake of a harm-reduction service and public health monitoring tool, the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS), a statewide CDCP built upon public health, harm reduction, and public safety partnerships."

Green, T. C., Olson, R., Jarczyk, C., Erowid, E., Erowid, F., Thyssen, S., Wightman, R., Del Pozo, B., Michelson, L., Consigli, A., Reilly, B., & Ruiz, S. (2022). Implementation and Uptake of the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream: A Statewide Public Health-Public Safety Partnership Drug Checking Program. Journal of public health management and practice : JPHMP, 28(Suppl 6), S347–S354.

44. Availability of Drug Checking Technology in the US

"This study also demonstrates that available technologies fail to fully meet the needs of drug checking programs. As legal avenues for drug checking services expand, additional resources at the local, state, and federal levels should be directed towards the improvement of portable spectrometry devices and other technologies that might be useful for drug checking. The organization included in this study, and the broader drug checking peer-network in which they participate, has already made enormous advancements in the use of these devices for community drug checking [47]. Dedicated and well-resourced efforts to leverage that expertise and advance existing technologies could quickly bring drug checking out of its proverbial “Bronze Age.”

"The cost of acquiring and using this technology is one that many harm reduction organizations cannot manage. The 26-billion-dollar global settlement from opioid litigation will soon be distributed to cities and counties across the United States, creating unprecedented opportunity to invest in high-demand, high-impact interventions like community drug checking. As states are developing their global settlement spending plans [48], numerous experts have urged state leaders to dedicate that funding toward the support of essential harm reduction services, including drug checking [49]. Further, as portable spectroscopy devices perform the same function as fentanyl test strips, but do so more expansively, there is a strong rationale to expand the use of federal funds to include both fentanyl test strips and other drug checking equipment. These instruments are often purchased for forensic reasons and maintained by law enforcement and forensic laboratories. Support for their purchase, use, and extension to public health and harm reduction realms would be a way for HHS to explicitly support community drug checking."

Carroll, J.J., Mackin, S., Schmidt, C. et al. The Bronze Age of drug checking: barriers and facilitators to implementing advanced drug checking amidst police violence and COVID-19. Harm Reduct J 19, 9 (2022).

45. Demand Exists for Development of Xylazine Test Strips

"Xylazine is currently not a scheduled substance under the United States Controlled Substances Act, though some efforts are underway to change this (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2021; Murphy, n.d.). However, supply side efforts to control xylazine adulteration of fentanyl/heroin are unlikely to work and – similar to trends seen when trying to decrease the availability of alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine – will likely exacerbate adulteration (Cowan, 1986). Xylazine test strips, by contrast, are a demand-driven response to unwanted adulterants and may be able influence the composition of the drug supply if xylazine is linked to specific stamps (i.e., how fentanyl/heroin products are branded in Philadelphia) (Friedman et al., 2022). This new form of drug checking represents a potential tool to further empower PWUD to make informed choices about what and how they consume drugs.

"All participants who spontaneously discussed wanting xylazine test strips, or were asked if they would want them, indicated they would use them to test their fentanyl/heroin before drug consumption, if available. Xylazine test strips are not currently available and, to our knowledge, are not in development. Research is needed from broader monitoring and analysis of the drug supply to determine whether xylazine in fentanyl/heroin is pharmaceutical grade. Additionally, it is important to understand if a xylazine test strip would be capable of detecting any xylazine analogs.

"A xylazine test strip may have the potential to positively impact drug use in a similar manner to fentanyl test strips. Fentanyl test strips have been found to significantly alter drug use behavior and foster safer drug use practices with continued testing. Individuals using fentanyl test strips prior to drug use did so in order to prevent fentanyl overdose and the potential need for emergency interventions (Peiper et al., 2019). Additionally, there have been studies reporting fentanyl test strip use following drug use. Among these individuals, positive results for fentanyl were associated with use of reduced doses on subsequent drug consumption occasions (Karamouzian et al., 2018)."

Reed, M. K., Imperato, N. S., Bowles, J. M., Salcedo, V. J., Guth, A., & Rising, K. L. (2022). Perspectives of people in Philadelphia who use fentanyl/heroin adulterated with the animal tranquilizer xylazine; Making a case for xylazine test strips. Drug and alcohol dependence reports, 4, 100074.

46. Drug Checking and the "Rave Act"

"Although many checkers mentioned that they had not heard of anyone being prosecuted for possession of test kits, many were more directly affected by party promoter and venue owner reluctance to allow their services due to fear of fines or even prison sentences. Checkers affiliated with formal drug checking organizations in particular expressed concern over potential legal barriers associated with drug checking at festivals or other events. The main concern cited by many formal checkers is the “RAVE Act” (the “Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act”). Although this bill in 2002 was never passed, it was reintroduced in US Congress the following year as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act which made it illegal to knowingly lease, rent, or use a space for the purpose of distributing or using controlled substances. In response to this Act, party promoters and venue owners fear they would be prosecuted if their venue could be deemed a place where drug consumption was “allowed”. According to this Act, property owners or promoters could be fined up to $250,000 and face up to 20 years in prison if their parties were deemed places where illegal drug use was taking place.

"Checkers commonly cited this law (which they still refer to as the “RAVE Act”) as a major barrier to their harm reduction services as such organizations are often not given permission by party promoters or venue owners, because permitting them to operate on-site could be seen as encouraging or allowing drug use. There were also instances mentioned in which drug checking organizations acquire initial approval to set up a booth at a festival, and then the organization is denied access the day of the festival due to fear of legal liability."

Palamar, J. J., Acosta, P., Sutherland, R., Shedlin, M. G., & Barratt, M. J. (2019). Adulterants and altruism: A qualitative investigation of "drug checkers" in North America. The International journal on drug policy, 74, 160–169.

47. Take-Home Naloxone Does Not Lead To Riskier Drug Use

"We did not find evidence that THN [Take-Home Naloxone] training was associated with risk compensation behavior in this cohort of people who inject drugs. Rather, there was no significant change in frequency of injecting any drugs, injecting opioids, or using benzodiazepines after accessing THN. There was also no change in the proportion of time that participants reported using drugs alone, a key indicator of overdose mortality risk.30,38,39

"There was no evidence of THN-associated compensatory risk behavior in this cohort. While not all overdose risk behaviors were examined in this study (eg, injecting in public, concomitant use of alcohol or benzodiazepines, and use of fentanyl),40,41 frequency of opioid injecting and frequency of benzodiazepine use are 2 of the most important risk factors for overdose. The association between knowledge of and engagement in overdose risk behaviors is complex,38 and THN is designed to be used on other people who may be at risk of overdose; therefore, it may be pertinent to examine the implications of naloxone availability for drug use in peer networks. In a qualitative study, participants with opioid use disorder residing in residential drug treatment programs in the US described both no change to their drug use and some engagement in riskier behavior by themselves or peers (eg, injecting heroin laced with fentanyl).42 However, this finding has not been borne out in empirical evidence and does not appear to correspond with increases in overdose at the population level.3,4

"Findings from this work are consistent with an emerging evidence base suggesting that concerns about risk compensation with naloxone availability are unfounded.4 Yet, these concerns continue to be raised as objections for expanding THN supply.7,11 For example, a number of pharmacists in a recent Australian study expressed concerns about distributing naloxone, as they believed that recipients would feel comfortable increasing their opioid use.43 However, because naloxone administration can be associated with opioid withdrawal and reverses the effects of any opioids that have been recently taken, the outcomes of naloxone are considered unpleasant by people who inject drugs, meaning that they are typically reluctant to administer the drug.42,44 Furthermore, it is questionable whether this concern is reason enough to withhold a lifesaving medication from people. Only 40.4% of participants in the SuperMIX study reported THN training, despite most of the sample reporting the use of opioids. There is a clear need for widespread education among health care practitioners and other key stakeholders to enable them to address this common assumption about THN, which can act as a barrier to THN supply so that coverage is increased."

Colledge-Frisby S, Rathnayake K, Nielsen S, et al. Injection Drug Use Frequency Before and After Take-Home Naloxone Training. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(8):e2327319. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.27319

48. Child-Centered Harm Reduction

"This term, which we hope can over time be employed as a keyword in the literature, is intended to foreground children under the age of majority and for whom child rights laws apply in harm reduction theory, policy and practice. Child-centred harm reduction draws attention to the specificities of childhood in harm reduction work. Existing theories of harm reduction may need adaptation to the sociology and psychology of childhood, including the interconnected relationship between parent and child, family-centred care, and attention to children’s rights (see Maynard et al., 2019). Some interventions may not be practical, effective or ethical for children (Watson et al., 2015). Research on existing harm reduction services that work with minors – including those that may not strictly be permitted to do so - may place those children or the service at risk. Issues of consent, identity, agency and maturity, as well as the child’s ‘best interests’ may challenge the assumptions and premises upon which ‘low threshold’ harm reduction services are delivered (Barrett, Petersson, & Turner, 2022). Different legal and human rights standards are engaged, from drug laws to family law to child rights. Child protection laws may require duties of reporting that affect harm reduction service provision and research (ibid). In some cases both parent and child can be legal minors, leading to further challenges and complications regarding assessments of best interests. National, regional and international policy frameworks may need renewed scrutiny through a child-centred harm reduction lens (see for example Barrett, 2015).

"The term is not perfect. For example, ‘child’ may conjure the image of only very young children, when the majority of drug use would involve older adolescents. Few seventeen year-olds would refer to themselves as children. However, those under the age of 18 are legal minors in most contexts, and are ‘children’ for the purposes of child rights. Other terms, such as ‘youth harm reduction’ reproduce the problem of age ranges noted above, while ‘adolescent harm reduction’ omits younger children. ‘Adolescence’ can also extend beyond the age of majority. ‘Paediatric harm reduction’ was considered, but implied an overly medical approach.

"The word ‘centred’ is critical. Our view of child-centred harm reduction extends from neonates to adolescents, with all of the challenges and differing capacities and relationships that arise at these stages of development. Centring the child is key and draws our attention also, for example, to dependent children in adult harm reduction work. We believe that ‘child-centred’ focuses on the specificities of childhood in harm reduction and captures a holistic, rights-based, and person-centred approach."

Barrett, D., Stoicescu, C., Thumath, M., Maynard, E., Turner, R., Shirley-Beavan, S., Kurcevič, E., Petersson, F., Hasselgård-Rowe, J., Giacomello, C., Wåhlin, E., & Lines, R. (2022). Child-centred harm reduction. The International journal on drug policy, 109, 103857. Advance online publication.

49. Xylazine in Massachusetts

"In June 2020, the presence of xylazine, a veterinary sedative, was first detected as an active cut in heroin/fentanyl MADDS samples but in very low or trace quantities from 2 sites. By fall 2020, the ratio of xylazine to other active drugs had increased, and by the end of the year, xylazine was identified in 6.3% of MADDS samples (13.4% of fentanyl, 22.2% of heroin) and detected at all sites. At the close of 2020, some samples were found to contain more xylazine than fentanyl (eg,

The stimulant supply also exhibited dynamic changes during 2020. In prior work,21 FTIR scans of cocaine street samples found few active cuts, the modal cut being levamisole, a deworming agent. However, the 2020 samples exhibited high ratios of phenacetin, an obsolete pain-relieving medication unavailable in the United States. The high ratio of phenacetin found in powder cocaine (eg, and crack (rock) cocaine samples (eg, across MADDS sites was of concern because it was unexpected and, if ingested, may have negative health effects for people regularly using cocaine. Phenacetin is a carcinogen and can be harmful to the kidneys,28,29 which is of concern for PWUD. In many drug markets, phenacetin is a common active cut of cocaine. Its presence in 17.1% of cocaine samples and in high ratio (eg, suggests that cocaine supply chains in Massachusetts were disrupted by SARS-CoV-2. The prevalence of phenacetin might have been to “stretch” the available cocaine supply. Our review of the literature on xylazine and phenacetin prompted an informational bulletin on both substances in early 2021."

Green, T. C., Olson, R., Jarczyk, C., Erowid, E., Erowid, F., Thyssen, S., Wightman, R., Del Pozo, B., Michelson, L., Consigli, A., Reilly, B., & Ruiz, S. (2022). Implementation and Uptake of the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream: A Statewide Public Health-Public Safety Partnership Drug Checking Program. Journal of public health management and practice : JPHMP, 28(Suppl 6), S347–S354.

50. City Checking: Community-Based Drug Safety Testing

"These pilots suggest that community-based drug safety testing can provide, first, engagement with more diverse drug–using communities than event-based testing—in terms of demographics, drugs of choice and risk taking behaviours—and therefore potentially can be more inclusive and impactful across drug–using communities including with marginalised groups. Second, there is the potential benefit of issuing proactive alerts for substances of concern in local drug markets ahead of specific leisure events, as happened with a mis-sold ketamine analogue identified in this study. Third, community testing can benefit from accessing fixed site laboratory facilities (in this case, a university chemistry department) to complement the speed and convenience of mobile laboratories with potentially greater analytical capabilities and trialling of new technological developments.

"These benefits cannot be presumed, however. The community pilots highlighted that service design characteristics and operational variations such as venue, day of week, prior publicity and outreach activities all can influence outcomes. Moving to a neutral central building attracted larger numbers and a greater diversity of service users as well as building trust with new service user groups, with drugs outreach staff further enhancing engagement with more marginalised drug using communities."

Measham F. (2020). City checking: Piloting the UK's first community-based drug safety testing (drug checking) service in 2 city centres. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 86(3), 420–428.

51. Good Samaritan and Naloxone Access Laws Save Lives

"GAO found that 48 jurisdictions (47 states and D.C.) have enacted both Good Samaritan and Naloxone Access laws. Kansas, Texas and Wyoming do not have a Good Samaritan law for drug overdoses but have a Naloxone Access law. The five U.S. territories do not have either type of law. GAO also found that the laws vary. For example, Good Samaritan laws vary in the types of drug offenses that are exempt from prosecution and whether this immunity takes effect before an individual is arrested or charged, or after these events but before trial.

"GAO reviewed 17 studies that provide potential insights into the effectiveness of Good Samaritan laws in reducing overdose deaths or the factors that may contribute to a law’s effectiveness. GAO found that, despite some limitations, the findings collectively suggest a pattern of lower rates of opioid-related overdose deaths among states that have enacted Good Samaritan laws, both compared to death rates prior to a law’s enactment and death rates in states without such laws. In addition, studies found an increased likelihood of individuals calling 911 if they are aware of the laws. However, findings also suggest that awareness of Good Samaritan laws may vary substantially across jurisdictions among both law enforcement officers and the public, which could affect their willingness to call 911."

"Most States Have Good Samaritan Laws and Research Indicates They May Have Positive Effects," US General Accountability Office, March 2021, GAO-21-248.

52. Reasons That People Become Drug Checkers

"Regardless of what led these individuals to become drug checkers, most appeared to be motivated by altruism and the desire to increase safety and minimize risks associated with others’ drug consumption. We describe their efforts in terms of altruism not only because they act in a selfless manner and donate their time and services, but also because unlike many other volunteers, drug checkers also risk arrest by handling illegal drugs, in order to promote the safety of others. Thus, they essentially place themselves under legal risk to help protect others.

"Many checkers mentioned the desire to educate the public about the importance of drug checking as there is a high prevalence of adulterated drugs in North American drug markets. Desire to educate was often two-fold—to directly educate those about to consume a specific drug (typically through the participants testing drugs in front of the individuals providing them), and to educate PWUD more broadly. Even participants who only tested for themselves often disseminated results, publicly, on social media, in order to inform harm reduction efforts for others. The work of drug checkers is driven primarily by the idea that drug checking allows PWUD to be more aware of the actual contents of the substance they intend to consume, so they believe checking reduces the risk of consuming an unknown substance which could produce untoward or unpleasant side effects."

Palamar, J. J., Acosta, P., Sutherland, R., Shedlin, M. G., & Barratt, M. J. (2019). Adulterants and altruism: A qualitative investigation of "drug checkers" in North America. The International journal on drug policy, 74, 160–169.

53. Harm Reduction and Web Outreach Work

"Our research demonstrates that a number of harm reduction-related needs among PWUD [People Who Use Drugs] can be met entirely through web outreach work, while some can only be partially met online. These findings are in line with the existing literature on online platforms bringing new opportunities to harm reduction services provision [18–20]. They also contribute to the growing amount of literature regarding the processes of web outreach work [22, 23] and bring new evidence on how various needs of PWUD are addressed by web outreach services.

"We identified a three-stage process of web outreach work. The process illustrates the benefits that PWUD gain from online harm reduction services provision without face-to-face contact with web outreach workers. An absence of requirement for physical presence of PWUD at a harm reduction organization facilitates greater level of anonymity in comparison with offline harm reduction services provision. In addition, the use of text messages brings greater convenience to PWUD, who do not feel comfortable with discussing drug use-related issues in person. These factors indicate that web outreach work helps to encourage harm reduction behaviors among PWUD who, otherwise, might not seek or have access to brick-and-mortar harm reduction services."

Davitadze, A., Meylakhs, P., Lakhov, A. et al. Harm reduction via online platforms for people who use drugs in Russia: a qualitative analysis of web outreach work. Harm Reduct J 17, 98 (2020).

54. Association of Opioid Overdose Laws with Opioid Use and Mortality

"• Naloxone access laws that ease restrictions on naloxone possession and distribution are associated with a 20% reduction overdose deaths among African-Americans.

"• Good Samaritan laws, providing immunity from prosecution for those calling emergency services, are associated with broad reductions in overdose deaths, reducing overdose deaths by 13% overall.

"• None of these harm reduction measures result in increase in opioid or heroin use.

"• These laws are effective at reducing overdose mortality without creating additional opioid use. Correspondingly, these measures should be considered an important part of the strategy used to address the opioid epidemic."

McClellan, Chandler, Lambdin, Barrot H., et al. Opioid-overdose laws association with opioid use and overdose mortality. Addictive Behaviors. March 19, 2018.

55. Harm Reduction Approach To Drug Policy

"Harm reduction is an influential approach to drug policy and practice that ‘encompasses interventions, programmes and policies that seek to reduce the health, social and economic harms of drug use’ (Rhodes & Hedrich, 2010 p. 19). While a universal definition is lacking, harm reduction is distinguished by its focus on incremental positive change regarding targeted harms, which neither presupposes nor precludes abstinence as a goal. NGOs further emphasise a commitment to human rights and social justice, necessitating the separation of drug use harms from drug policy harms, and highlighting the role of policy and legal frameworks as a driver of vulnerability (e.g. HRI, n.d; HRC, n.d). Harm reduction is a cornerstone of HIV and overdose prevention, endorsed by every relevant UN agency in this regard (United Nations, 2019). It is also increasingly influential for other forms of drug use and drug related harms. However, harm reduction has primarily developed around adult drug use, obscuring theoretical, practical, ethical and legal issues pertaining to children and adolescents under the age of majority – both relating to their own use and the effects of drug use among parents or within the family."

Barrett, D., Stoicescu, C., Thumath, M., Maynard, E., Turner, R., Shirley-Beavan, S., Kurcevič, E., Petersson, F., Hasselgård-Rowe, J., Giacomello, C., Wåhlin, E., & Lines, R. (2022). Child-centred harm reduction. The International journal on drug policy, 109, 103857. Advance online publication.

56. Harm Reduction Services for People Who Use Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS) and Performance- and Image-Enhancing Drugs (PIEDS)

"Creating a bridge between public health and drug policy in the context of AAS would be a significant step towards providing adequate healthcare to this, often overlooked, group of substance consumers (Dunn et al., 2023; Piatkowski et al., 2022, 2023a). The risk environments framework provides a theoretical foundation for doing so (Rhodes, 2002), emphasising the importance of enabling contexts and resources in advancing harm reduction (Duff, 2009, 2011). Substance use, including AAS, is influenced by various interacting factors within a social context. Hanley Santos and Coomber (2017) indicate that patterns of AAS use among consumers varied based on their motivations, prior knowledge, and experiences. Many users had limited knowledge about AAS before starting their use, relying on information from peers or suppliers, which was sometimes inaccurate or incomplete (Hanley Santos & Coomber, 2017). As Hanley Santos and Coomber (2017) suggest, when developing interventions targeting AAS use, it is crucial to consider the broader context (e.g., motivations and experiences). Therefore, we extend this study by investigating how individuals' social contexts and cultural interpretations of risk practices shape their engagement with and perceptions of drug checking services, aiming to enhance our understanding of the complexities surrounding risk behaviours and informing drug policy and practice in the context of drug checking. While there is some integration of AAS consumers in harm reduction, predominantly through needle service provision (Kimergard & McVeigh, 2014; Piatkowski, Hides et al., 2022), ensuring the delivery of sterile injecting equipment should be regarded as a minimal requirement (Bates et al., 2021), Scholars have suggested harm reduction frameworks should expand to encompass a comprehensive range of harm reduction interventions that address the needs of individuals using AAS throughout their entire usage cycle, including those who opt for temporary or permanent cessation of use (Bates et al., 2021; Bates & Vinther, 2021). Therefore, further establishing the position of AAS within harm reduction frameworks can facilitate an alliance between public health policy and AAS consumers."

Piatkowski T, Puljevic C, Francis C, Ferris J, Dunn M. "They sent it away for testing and it was all bunk": Exploring perspectives on drug checking among steroid consumers in Queensland, Australia. Int J Drug Policy. 2023 Jul 21;119:104139. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104139. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37481876.

57. State and Federal Changes Prior to Opening the US's First Legally-Recognized Supervised Consumption Sites

"In 2021, NY State and the USA elected executive branch leaders who publicly supported harm reduction as a public health approach to reducing overdose deaths. In April 2021, the Biden administration explicitly listed “enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts” as a drug policy priority for its first year in office, which NYC interpreted as potentially aligned with the concept of OPCs. Similarly, members of President Biden’s senior leadership team, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, voiced harm reduction as a priority, although they did not go so far as to endorse OPCs as a strategy. At the state level, NYS ushered in a new administration in 2021, including newly appointed health leadership who had previously contributed to efforts to explore OPCs in prior roles and was on record as supporting OPCs. Although NYS was not on an immediate path to formally authorize OPCs through executive or legislative action, it appeared that NYS would not interfere if an OPC were to open in NYC."

Giglio, R.E., Mantha, S., Harocopos, A. et al. The Nation’s First Publicly Recognized Overdose Prevention Centers: Lessons Learned in New York City. J Urban Health (2023).

58. Overdose Crisis In Canada

"Canada is in the midst of a devastating overdose crisis that has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and, in particular, the subsequent increased toxicity of the drug supply [1]. Between January 2016 and June 2022, close to 33,000 people died from an overdose in Canada, with the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta accounting for 88% of those deaths [2]. Fentanyl, and to a lesser extent fentanyl analogues, have contributed to a sharp rise in the toxicity of the unregulated drug supply and fatal overdoses [2]. Between January and June 2022, fentanyl was detected in 76% of overdose deaths in Canada [2]. In Ontario, fentanyl is involved in 88% of fatal overdoses [3]. In Toronto, this number rises to 93% [3]."

Gagnon, M., Rudzinski, K., Guta, A. et al. Impact of safer supply programs on injection practices: client and provider experiences in Ontario, Canada. Harm Reduct J 20, 81 (2023).

59. Online Harm Reduction Service Provision

"Our analysis of the needs of PWUD [People Who Use Drugs] and services provided to them demonstrates two major functions performed by web outreach workers: 1. They can provide certain services completely online, and 2. They navigate clients within the organization in order to match the needs of the PWUD with a person who can address them. Our research on web outreach work indicates an increasing level of efficiency that comes from online provision of harm reduction services. Instead of traveling to a harm reduction facility, PWUD can contact the organization via an online platform. Furthermore, harm reduction services provided entirely online gain particular relevance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when offline harm reduction organizations experienced new challenges to providing in-person outreach services.

"Our findings suggest that online harm reduction services provision can be improved in terms of accessibility and efficiency. A challenge for web outreach work, as described by informants, was the inability of workers to communicate with PWUD after hours. One possible solution is to automatize some processes with Telegram bots, as it was done with the cases of OD [Overdoses]. Currently, web outreach workers manually send information to PWUD. If automatized, then PWUD themselves could use a bot to get necessary information at any time of the day. However, not all services can be automatized with a bot; therefore, it may be necessary to employ some workers, who could reply to clients’ requests after hours. This is especially important in emergency situations, such as OD. Another way to develop provision of online harm reduction services is to increase their presence on darknet forums. Greater presence could potentially make online services accessible to more groups of PWUD, who request urgent help after hours and/or who do not use Telegram. Another obstacle in increasing accessibility of online harm reduction services was that some clients refused to continue communication with web outreach workers via the phone. More research is needed to explore the needs that PWUD have in such cases, identify the reasons why certain PWUD refuse to communicate via the phone, and explore how web outreach work can be provided in such instances."

Davitadze, A., Meylakhs, P., Lakhov, A. et al. Harm reduction via online platforms for people who use drugs in Russia: a qualitative analysis of web outreach work. Harm Reduct J 17, 98 (2020).

60. Incongruences Between Services Offered By Substance Use Programs and Their Clients

"Findings from our study illustrate that many substance use programs do not fit directly into a binary of “harm reduction” or “treatment.” Most of the participating programs in this study reported offering a spectrum of harm reduction and treatment services. Still, SSPs [Syringe Service Programs] were most likely to offer harm reduction services, MOUD [Medications for Opioid Use Disorder] programs were most likely to offer treatment services, and those characterized as offering both MOUD & SSPs were most likely to offer the broadest services. Program clients also did not fit into the supposed binary of “active drug use” vs. “abstinence.” In fact, of the clients who attended MOUD only programs, nearly three quarters reported using non-prescribed drugs in the past week, and more than half reported injecting drugs in the past week; these rates were similar to those reported by clients who attended combined MOUD & SSP programs. Meanwhile, more than 40% of those who attended SSP only programs reported attending some type of drug treatment service in the past month.

"Our results reveal some important incongruencies between services being offered by substance use programs and characteristics and behaviors reported by clients who attend such programs. For example, while three-quarters of MOUD program clients reported using non-prescribed drugs (one-quarter reported using opioids), only two-thirds of these programs offered overdose education or naloxone distribution and one-third offered fentanyl testing or test strips. This is highly concerning given the high prevalence of fentanyl in both the opioid and non-opioid illicit drug supplies [21] and may partly reflect the presence of policies that criminalize possession of fentanyl test strips in some of the sampled states [22]. Moreover, half of clients who attended MOUD programs without SSP or wound care actively injected drugs. While it is possible that these clients seek safe injection supplies elsewhere, a minority (14%) reported visiting an SSP in the past month.

"There were also discrepancies in services offered by SSPs relative to client-reported service utilization. Of clients recruited from SSPs without MOUD, 22% indicated receiving methadone and 8% reported receiving buprenorphine in the past month. This implies clients are either seeking these medications via other service providers or acquiring them on the street, which has been reported to often be easier than enrolling in formal treatment [9, 23, 24]. Roughly half of MOUD programs offered same-day treatment initiation. Additionally, SSP programs were reaching the highest risk population that with the greatest rates of active drug use. Yet, on average, these programs reported having the smallest number of staff and the least available treatment or social services relative to the other programs types. The limited workforce and services offered may reflect the limited budgets often used to operate these programs. Many harm reduction services operate independently from the medical system and are not eligible for insurance reimbursement. Additionally, programs have been historically banned from accessing federal and local funds for SSPs; programs have had to depend on scarce funds acquired a combination of small grants, individual donations, and charitable foundations [4, 25]. The Biden Administration’s 2021 American Rescue Act was the first federal action to allocate targeted funding toward harm reduction services and SSPs [25, 26]. While this was an important step to potentially help scale up these services, local and national resistance and stigma to these programs remains persistent (highlighted by the recent resistance to federal funding sterile pipes [27]). Continued efforts to combat ongoing stigma and political resistance to these programs are needed [25]."

Krawczyk N, Allen ST, Schneider KE, et al. Intersecting substance use treatment and harm reduction services: exploring the characteristics and service needs of a community-based sample of people who use drugs. Harm Reduct J. 2022;19(1):95. Published 2022 Aug 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-022-00676-8

61. Differences and Similarities Between Harm Reduction Programs and Substance Use Treatment Programs

"While cultural and structural differences continue to divide many substance use treatment and harm reduction services, the needs and goals of people who seek these two services may have always been much less distinctive. For example, many who attend substance use treatment continue to use drugs [5]. Similarly, many who attend harm reduction programs seek to engage in treatment at some points [6]. Indeed, clients of SSPs are approximately five times more likely to engage in treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than persons who do not access SSPs [7]. In recent decades, harm reduction and treatment goals have become increasingly blurred with the growing uptake of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). In particular, methadone and buprenorphine are used by some with a goal of abstaining from opioid use; for others, MOUD are used to help mitigate withdrawal and overdose risk without abstaining from drug use [8, 9].

"Despite this reality, programs that successfully combine treatment and harm reduction services and principles are often the exception rather than the rule [8, 10, 11]. Yet, the increasing severity of the opioid overdose crisis in North America and the rise in viral and bacterial infections among PWUD [12–14] have led to a recognition of the urgent need to utilize multiple approaches toward the joint goal of reducing drug-related harms [15]. In particular, concerns about the increasingly lethal opioid supply [16] have emphasized the need to use any available evidence-based strategies known to reduce opioid-related overdose mortality. These concerns have encouraged more treatment providers to incorporate harm reduction approaches (e.g., naloxone distribution and overdose education) [17], and harm reduction providers to integrate MOUD as a direct service [18]."

Krawczyk N, Allen ST, Schneider KE, et al. Intersecting substance use treatment and harm reduction services: exploring the characteristics and service needs of a community-based sample of people who use drugs. Harm Reduct J. 2022;19(1):95. Published 2022 Aug 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-022-00676-8

62. The DOPE SRO Project

"In 2021, the SFDPH [San Francisco Department of Public Health]/DOPE [Drug Overdose Prevention & Education] Project collaboration initiated a pilot program designed to reduce fatal overdoses in permanent supportive SROs by mobilizing and supporting tenant overdose response within these buildings. Known as the DOPE SRO Project, this program recruited, trained, and compensated tenants to serve as overdose prevention specialists (hereafter referred to as 'specialists') who help prevent overdose deaths in the building through naloxone distribution and peer-to-peer training in overdose identification and response. The program was piloted in two supportive housing sites that have experienced escalating overdose death. The first site is a large SRO (160 units) located in the Tenderloin neighborhood that has been operating for over four decades and is home to a mix of long-term and recently housed tenants. The second site is a smaller SRO (50 units) located in the South of Market Street (SoMa) that has been operational since 2018. Both buildings offer case management services and other supports (e.g. food programs, community programming) to tenants, who are referred through the city's Coordinated Entry Systems for homelessness services (Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing 2022)."

Michelle Olding, Neena Joshi, Stacy Castellanos, Emily Valadao, Lauren Hall, Laura Guzman, Kelly Knight, Saving lives in our homes: Qualitative evaluation of a tenant overdose response program in supportive, single-room occupancy (SRO) housing, International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 118, 2023, 104084, ISSN 0955-3959,

63. Creating A Person-Centered Substance Use Service System That Improves Health And Dignity

"Findings from this study demonstrate that in many ways, existing programs are not adequately meeting the service needs of or catering to the realities of PWUD. Creating a substance use service system that is truly person-centered and successful at improving health and dignity will necessitate moving away from the binary mentality of harm reduction vs. treatment to one which is better tailored to individual clients. This includes offering a continuum of co-located treatment, harm reduction, and social services that can meet individuals where they are. This would help facilitate access to life-saving services and greater socioeconomic stability [28, 29]. This may be particularly important for individuals with multiple vulnerabilities, as well as during emergencies—such as the COVID-19 pandemic—when minimizing travel and co-locating access to multiple health and social services is key [30]. In our study, programs that included both MOUD & SSP offered the greatest range of treatment and harm reduction services, including naloxone distribution, overdose prevention education, same-day treatment initiation, drop-in spaces, peer services/street outreach, and counseling services. However, these programs were the rarest in our sample of providers and remain largely under-resourced and at the periphery of the substance use service system. Moreover, such integrated models have been made possible by the ability to prescribe buprenorphine in non-traditional treatment settings [31]. Methadone, which may be the most effective and desirable MOUD option for some individuals, and used by many participants in our study, is still largely restricted to the opioid treatment program system bound by regulations on staffing, zoning, and hefty requirements for patients such as frequent urine drug screening [32, 33]. While there are some successful models of lower threshold methadone in other countries[34], scaling up methadone to meet needs of PWUD in the USA will require rethinking some of the core federal and state regulations, including expanding methadone availability beyond the opioid treatment program system [35]. It is important to note that most participating clients reported using drugs other than opioids; thus, integrating interventions for stimulant and other drug use should be central to efforts to better align programs with client behaviors."

Krawczyk N, Allen ST, Schneider KE, et al. Intersecting substance use treatment and harm reduction services: exploring the characteristics and service needs of a community-based sample of people who use drugs. Harm Reduct J. 2022;19(1):95. Published 2022 Aug 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-022-00676-8

64. Tenant-Led Naloxone Distribution and Overdose Education in SRO Settings

"Our findings contribute further evidence supporting tenant-led naloxone distribution and overdose education as a critical intervention to address overdose vulnerability in SRO [Single Room Occupancy] settings (Bardwell et al., 2019; Nowell & Masuda, 2020). At the time of writing, the City of San Francisco funds naloxone distribution in seven of its approximately 75 supportive housing SROS, and has committed to making naloxone available in all its supportive housing facilities by 2026 (San Francisco Department of Public Health 2022; Thadani & Palomino, 2022). Rapidly increasing naloxone availability is crucial to reducing overdose deaths in SROs (Bardwell et al., 2017; Rowe et al., 2019). This evaluation foregrounds the benefits of pairing targeted naloxone distribution with programs that train and compensate tenants to lead overdose education and response in their buildings. The city has so far earmarked $1 million dollars to expand the SRO program model into eight supportive housing facilities (San Francisco Department of Public Health 2022). This investment is promising and will allow the specialist program to run in eight additional SROs until June 2023. However, this evaluation highlights the need for enhanced training and psychosocial supports for the housing staff and tenants who are routinely responding to overdoses. Given the broader forms of support and mutual aid that specialists described in this evaluation, they could benefit from expanded training in other social competencies such as collaborative leadership, crisis response, violence prevention, and conflict de-escalation. Involving tenants early on in program planning and training curriculum development may help better tailor training to needs of different SRO environments. Psychosocial supports including grief counseling and post-overdose de-briefing were also requested by specialists and supportive housing team members to address the emotional burden of overdose response work. Regular check-ins with specialists about their workloads will continue to be important to identify and mitigate scope creep."

Michelle Olding, Neena Joshi, Stacy Castellanos, Emily Valadao, Lauren Hall, Laura Guzman, Kelly Knight, Saving lives in our homes: Qualitative evaluation of a tenant overdose response program in supportive, single-room occupancy (SRO) housing, International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 118, 2023, 104084, ISSN 0955-3959,

65. Development of Safer Supply Programs In Canada

"Scaling-up interventions such as naloxone distribution programs, supervised consumption services, and opioid agonist treatment have averted thousands of overdose-related deaths in Canada, but the persistent predominance of fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply continues to fuel overdose-related deaths [4]. To complement existing interventions, many have pointed out that providing an alternative to the unregulated toxic drug supply in the form of safer supply is critical to preventing overdose-related deaths and addressing the needs of people for whom current treatment models do not work or are not a good fit [5,6,7,8,9,10,11]. This approach builds on the premise that harms caused by the unregulated drug supply can be averted by providing access to a regulated drug supply [12].

"Over the past few years, there has been a rapid scale up of safer supply programs in Canada [13]. Ontario is home to a dozen safer supply programs where primary care physicians and/or nurse practitioners work with other health care and service providers to embed safer supply prescribing within a broader model of care and supports for clients with complex health and social needs [14]. At the time of the study, safer supply medications in this province consisted of take-home hydromorphone tablets and directly observed slow-release morphine tablets, dosed and titrated to meet clients’ needs. Some programs required both medications to be directly observed for high-risk clients, such as those who report high-volume alcohol consumption or benzodiazepine use. Early evidence suggests that clients enrolled in safer supply programs have significantly reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations, improved health care engagement, fewer overdoses and overdose-related deaths, reduced drug-related harms, and improved health and social outcomes [14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22]."

Gagnon, M., Rudzinski, K., Guta, A. et al. Impact of safer supply programs on injection practices: client and provider experiences in Ontario, Canada. Harm Reduct J 20, 81 (2023).

66. Protections Offered by Good Samaritan Laws Vary By Jurisdiction

"Our analysis of the characteristics of the 48 Good Samaritan laws found that they differ in the protections they offer to individuals who call for medical assistance for an overdose victim. First, there is variation in whether criminal immunity—an exemption from prosecution—is offered and, if so, for which type of drug offense, such as possessing or delivering drugs in violation of an otherwise applicable drug law. Second, there is variation in when criminal immunity takes effect—the timing can be before an individual would otherwise be arrested and charged as a criminal defendant or after these events but before an individual is prosecuted.

"Finally, because a jurisdiction retains the power to prosecute individuals who do not have criminal immunity, some Good Samaritan laws offer either an affirmative defense at trial or a mitigating factor at sentencing, or both."

"Most States Have Good Samaritan Laws and Research Indicates They May Have Positive Effects," US General Accountability Office, March 2021, GAO-21-248.

67. Drug Checking Services and Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs

"The Global Commission on Drug Policy recently advised governments to make harm reduction measures, including drug checking services, widely accessible (Bewley-Taylor & Tinasti, 2020; Buxton et al., 2020). Although there have been calls for drug checking in Australia for some time (Ritter, 2020), initially there were only two Australian trials of drug checking, both performed in a festival context (Byrne et al., 2018; Olsen et al., 2019). This comprised a fixed site trial service launched in Canberra in 2022, which has been extended and is expected to become a permanent service (Olsen et al., 2022). In February 2023, the government of Queensland (the second largest and third most populous state in Australia) announced support for the introduction of drug checking services (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2023). The recent recommendation to make drug checking services widely accessible aligns with the harm reduction approach, which recognises the social context and influences surrounding substance use (Bewley-Taylor & Tinasti, 2020; Buxton et al., 2020). The support for introducing drug checking services by the government of Queensland reflects a step towards implementing population-level interventions aimed at reducing drug-related harms and addressing health inequalities. While previous studies surrounding these services have focused on populations such as the nightlife/festival attendees, particularly ecstasy consumers, there is still a gap in research regarding the perspectives and experiences of those involved in the consumption of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) such as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). Therefore, in the context of the Queensland government's commitment to supporting such services, this study specifically aimed to explore AAS consumers attitudes, perceptions, and needs regarding drug checking. Doing so aligns service provision with broader goal of enhancing health outcomes for this population given the high representation of AAS consumption in Queensland, accounted for by the overrepresentation of AAS-related arrests compared to other states and territories (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, 2021)."

Piatkowski T, Puljevic C, Francis C, Ferris J, Dunn M. "They sent it away for testing and it was all bunk": Exploring perspectives on drug checking among steroid consumers in Queensland, Australia. Int J Drug Policy. 2023 Jul 21;119:104139. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2023.104139. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 37481876.

68. Safer Supply and Injection Practices

"Safer supply programs are not designed or implemented with the explicit goal of changing injection practices. However, the experiences of clients and providers help us understand how a structural intervention, such as safer supply, can impact other aspects of IDU (e.g., frequency of injection) and its associated health risks (e.g., HIV, HCV, etc.). As Perlman and Jordan [37] point out, structural interventions are important because “structural factors contribute potently to creating the context that renders individuals and areas vulnerable to the syndemic of [overdose, HCV, and HIV]” (p.109). These interventions work upstream, to change the “risk environment” [38, 39], rather than solely focusing on mitigating the downstream consequences at the level of the individual. Our study findings suggest that changing the “risk environment,” by providing an alternative to the toxic drug supply, creates more opportunities for risk reduction. Changes in injection practices identified in this analysis offer a compelling example.

"Our findings suggest that clients enrolled in safer supply programs changed their injection practices in three intersecting ways: (1) they changed how often they injected, (2) they changed what they injected, and (3) they changed their mode of consumption (from injecting to swallowing or snorting). These findings add to existing research [16,17,18] by providing a more dynamic understanding of injection practices in the context of safer supply programs and further supporting the idea that safer supply can contribute to reducing injection-related health risks in addition to overdose risks [40]. We posit that safer supply programs have the potential to address disease prevention and health promotion gaps that other stand-alone downstream harm reduction interventions (e.g., needle and syringe programs) cannot address, by working upstream and providing a safer alternative to fentanyl. As Rhodes [38] reminds us, harm reduction interventions such as needle and syringe exchange programs are crucial, but their effectiveness at preventing injection-related health risks can be undermined by a particular “risk environment.” For example, if a particular shift in the drug supply results in people injecting more frequently, such is the case with fentanyl, an HIV outbreakFootnote1 could occur even in jurisdictions where needle and syringe exchange programs are available [38].

"It is important to note, however, that not all changes in injection practices could be attributed directly to safer supply programs. We identified several indirect factors, such as poor venous access and having to inject hydromorphone tablets not intended for intravenous administration (for more on this, see study by Ivsins and colleages [17] and guidance by the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use [42]), which shaped the decision to stop injecting. Having the option of taking safer supply medications orally made this decision possible, but it is unclear if all clients who stopped injecting would have done so if they had access to a range of injectable safer supply medications and/or had better venous access. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent clients continued to inject because the safer supply medications dosage/potency was not meeting their needs, as suggested by clients who spoke of the need to supplement with fentanyl, and/or because they wanted to continue injecting. Future research should aim at exploring these nuances because safer supply programs are not intended as interventions to stop clients from injecting. If clients want to inject, they should be able to do so and access injectable safer supply medications (including injectable hydromorphone) as well as sterile supplies and supervised safer consumption services—a priority echoed in a recent report on substance use patterns and safer supply preferences of PWUD in British Colombia [43]."

Gagnon, M., Rudzinski, K., Guta, A. et al. Impact of safer supply programs on injection practices: client and provider experiences in Ontario, Canada. Harm Reduct J 20, 81 (2023).

69. Types Of Offenses Covered by Good Samaritan Laws

"Of the 47 laws that provide criminal immunity to individuals who call for medical assistance, 44 cover drug possession offenses. The other three laws (Iowa’s, South Carolina’s, and Vermont’s) cover both drug possession offenses as well as more serious drug delivery offenses, such as selling, dispensing, or possessing drugs with an intent to sell or dispense.25 The 47 laws vary in the specific drug possession and drug delivery offenses covered by criminal immunity (immunized offenses). At the broadest level, Vermont’s law provides immunity for any drug offense.26 In comparison, the other 46 laws limit immunity to a subset of drug offenses. For example, in regards to immunized drug possession offenses, Alabama’s law limits immunity to misdemeanor drug offenses, such as possession of marijuana for personal use, whereas Illinois’s law includes some felonies, such as possession of less than 3 grams of heroin or morphine.27 In regards to immunized drug delivery offenses, Iowa’s law provides immunity if the drugs were delivered without profit, while South Carolina’s law provides immunity if the drugs were delivered to the overdose victim."

"Most States Have Good Samaritan Laws and Research Indicates They May Have Positive Effects," US General Accountability Office, March 2021, GAO-21-248.

70. A Decentralized Model for Supervised Consumption Services

"A growing body of data supports the need to deliver HIV prevention in low-barrier settings where PWUD already access services [9]. With opioid use disorder (OUD) increasingly recognized as a chronic and relapsing disease, evidence-based treatment (including medications for OUD [MOUD], harm reduction services, and others) should be integrated into primary care, pharmacies, methadone clinics, social services organizations, fire stations, or other settings alongside other chronic conditions. For example, a clinic may designate a clinic room as their OPS, with injection supplies, peer support, and healthcare personnel available to respond in case of an overdose. To patients, this could signal a non-stigmatizing culture, acknowledge that clinicians should support a patient when their substance use disorder is most active, and may facilitate discussions on MOUD during ongoing use. Drawing on successes of syringe exchange and other peer-based approaches to harm reduction, PWUD should be meaningfully included throughout program development and implementation.

"A decentralized model may have additional benefits. A majority of clients may travel only 1 mile or less to use an OPS [10], meaning that any single location may be inaccessible to some. Decentralized services would assist regions without geographically concentrated drug use. Additionally, the current epidemics, driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl and stimulants, require frequent injection events—suitable to a decentralized model allowing multiple access points throughout the day. Finally, as federal approval or funding for OPS operation is unlikely in the near future, a decentralized model using existing healthcare infrastructure may minimize costs and improve feasibility."

Braun, H. M., & Rich, J. D. (2022). A Decentralized Model for Supervised Consumption Services. Journal of urban health : bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 99(2), 332–333.