"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). doi.org/10.1186/s12954-023-00817-7