Harm Reduction Interventions to Prevent Overdose


Project Status:
Project Line:
Health Technology Review
Project Sub Line:
Policy Insight
Project Number:


  1. Policy interventions to prevent drug related harm/death at the time of use.​

Key Message

Overdose deaths have been occurring at high rates in many parts of Canada. From January 2016 (when national surveillance began) to March 2019, an estimated 12,800 Canadians died of an opioid overdose.1 In addition to opioid-related harms, stimulants such as methamphetamine have re-emerged in some regions and are also contributing to the current rise in overdose deaths.

COVID-19 has resulted in a more compromised illicit drug supply, and those who use drugs have had limited access to formal and informal supports because of public health measures regarding physical distancing. As a result, overdose deaths have increased during the pandemic.

Harm reduction approaches provide a mechanism to prevent overdose deaths and have additional health and public safety benefits. The current crisis has been exacerbated by COVID-19; therefore, it is an appropriate time to consider the entire continuum of harm reduction approaches available to reduce preventable overdose deaths.

People with lived experience of drug use should be meaningfully included in policy discussions about harm reduction and overdose prevention interventions. This would enhance the person-centredness of programs and ensure they are reflective of the lived realities of those who use drugs.

Although societal attitudes about drug use are changing, harm reduction interventions remain politically contentious. Countering stigma, being prepared to engage with community concerns, and clearly articulating that harm reduction services are intended to complement and not replace drug treatment are all important in enhancing public understanding of harm reduction.