Federal Election 2019

Definitions and Sources

Drugs and Harm Reduction: How to speak to your political candidates about their plan to combat the opioid overdose crisis

Definitions and Sources


Harm reduction | Harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to minimize negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. Harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights — it focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgment, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support.

Supervised consumption services (SCS) | SCS allow people to consume drugs (usually pre-obtained illegal drugs) under the supervision of trained staff and volunteers in a safe and hygienic environment. Facility staff members are present to provide sterile injection supplies, answer questions on safe injection practices, administer first aid if needed and monitor for overdose. Depending on facilities, staff may also offer general medical advice and referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment and other social support programs. In Canada, these services are provided at supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites.

Overdose prevention sites (OPS) | OPS are low-threshold supervised consumption services and their primary goal is to help prevent and respond to drug overdoses. OPS first operated in Canada without exemption or approval of authorities and functioned both to save lives and to put pressure on political leaders to ensure greater access to SCS. Measures were later taken at both federal and provincial levels to authorize OPS. Like supervised consumption sites, OPS provide a safe space where people are able to consume drugs under the supervision of trained volunteers and/or staff.

Human rights | Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.

Federal exemption | Without an exemption, staff, volunteers and clients of SCS and OPS are at risk of criminal prosecution under drug laws. Federal exemptions are currently granted by the federal Minister of Health under section 56.1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Opioids | A class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid™), codeine, morphine and others.