Safer Substance Use & Illicit Substances

When it comes to illicit substances, what does safer substance use mean?

The National Harm Reduction Coalition defines safer substance use as “having the ability to use safe and sterile instruments to reduce the risk of infections through recreational drug use”. Quitting use of a substance altogether may not be possible for everyone, but using substances in a safe, secure, and sterile environment can increase safety. In Simcoe County, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) offers a variety of resources to help ensure safer substance use including safe injecting and smoking kits, naloxone kits, and needle exchange programs.

Why is safer substance use helpful?

SMDHU explains that safer substance use helps individuals to:

  • Reduce the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B & C from sharing equipment, keeping people healthier and decreasing healthcare costs,

  • Provide education on the benefits of using new needles, smoking and other drug equipment,

  • Reduce the number of overdoses and deaths from substance use,

  • Provide a supportive safe environment where individuals can access health, counselling

Safe substance use also connects with harm reduction, which is reducing the harm and negativity attached to substance abuse in our society. The main goal of harm reduction is to save lives and decrease the stigma around addiction, high education rates on safe substance use, and connect individuals with social, emotional, and health support options when needed. 

What does harm reduction look like?

  • Free syringe service programs

  • Overdose prevention sites

  • Fentanyl tests

  • Naloxone kits and training 

  • Sterile injection or smoking equipment 

Travis Rider, an associate research professor at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics states “Opponents sometimes argue that giving people sterile syringes, clean pipes, naloxone, a space to use drugs under supervision, etc., incentivises drug use or leads to drug use. But people are going to use drugs whether they have these resources or not, and so withholding them doesn’t prevent that use; it just makes it more dangerous. Making an activity more dangerous doesn’t stop people who are committed to engaging in that activity; it just hurts and kills more of them.” Therefore, safe substance education and harm reduction are key in helping individuals with addiction and other health problems. 

For more information about illicit substances and safer substance use, visit the Student Health and Wellness Website.

Needle Exchange Programs in Orillia:

  1. Canadian Mental Health Association – Simcoe County Branch: 50 Nottawasaga Street, Orillia
  2. John Howard Society of Simcoe and Muskoka - Orillia: 17 Colborne Street East, Unit 109, Orilla
  3. Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit - Orillia: 169 Front Street South, Unit 120, Orillia.
  4. Orillia Downtown Dispensary: 188 Mississauga Street East, Orillia


- Tessa Wilkins, Peer Wellness Educator Lead