Harm reduction aims to reduce the negative health and social consequences associated with drug use.
Harm reduction principles
Harm reduction is a set of public health principles that give respect and rights to people who use drugs. These include:
- Seeking to minimize the harmful effects of drugs rather than ignore or condemn people who use.
- Understanding that drug use ranges from frequent use to total abstinence.
- Calling for judgment-free and at-will resources for people who use drugs.
- Being honest about the risks of drug use.
Learn more about harm reduction.
Naloxone is a prescription medicine that reverses opioid overdoses. It temporarily blocks the effect of opioids and helps a person to start breathing again. The medication is also sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio.
Although naloxone is a prescription medication, it is it available to all Pennsylvanians through a statewide standing order. A standing order allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone without requiring an individual prescription.
Personal health strategies
These harm reduction strategies help people who use drugs avoid disease and overdose:
- Use clean/new spoons, needles, cotton, tourniquets.
- Use alcohol swabs and sterile water packets.
- Carry naloxone.
- Safely dispose of used needles.
- Don’t use alone or let others use alone – ensure someone is there to call for help if an overdose occurs.
- Call 911 if you think someone is overdosing. The Good Samaritan Law protects callers so that they cannot get in trouble for witnessing or reporting an overdose.
Get information on how to use opioids more safely.
Non-opioid drugs are also affecting the Philadelphia region, including synthetic cannabinoids (K2), cocaine/crack, methamphetamine (meth), and phencyclidine (PCP). Learn about safer use strategies for non-opioid drugs.
Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS)
Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) are places designed to prevent people from dying of drug overdose. People will be able to use drugs that they bring into an OPS, like heroin, under medical supervision to prevent a fatal overdose. At an OPS, people will also be encouraged to enter drug treatment and connected to other social services, such as housing, if needed.
The City supports having one or more OPS in Philadelphia to reduce drug overdose deaths, reduce public drug use and discarded drug-related litter, prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and improve access to treatment.
Learn more about how OPS offer assistance and save lives. Get the facts on OPS.
Used sharps, such as needles, syringes, and other sharp drug tools, are dangerous to people and pets. If they are shared or are not safely thrown out, they can injure people and spread infectious diseases such as:
Safely throwing out sharps
It is important to safely throw out sharps wherever you are. Sharps that are not safely thrown away can be dangerous to anyone who finds them.
- Place all used sharps in a puncture-resistant, hard plastic or metal container that is not see-through.
- Close the container with its original lid and secure with heavy-duty tape.
- Label container “SHARPS BIOHAZARD/DO NOT RECYCLE”.
- Ask your doctor for help with getting rid of used sharps. Your doctor may agree to dispose of used syringes in an approved container for medical waste.
- Never place needles and other sharps in trash cans or recycling bins.
- Never flush sharps down the toilet.
Free sharps containers are available at Prevention Point Philadelphia.
Kiosks provide safe disposal
As part of the Philadelphia Resilience Project, the City has installed sharps disposal kiosks in Kensington, a neighborhood hit hard by the epidemic. The kiosks also accept needles used for insulin, steroids, biologic drugs, in vitro fertilization, and more. Use the map below to locate them.
- Wall unit
Employers and businesses
People sometimes throw used needles and sharps into the trash at airports, hotels, restaurants, and office buildings. Because of the risk of sticks from needles and other sharps in these facilities, it is recommended that employers and businesses:
- Provide sharps disposal containers in restrooms or other designated areas.
- Make employees and visitors aware of the location of containers.
- Contact state or local authorities for legal requirements applying to waste generated.
Learn more about safe sharps disposal.
Sharing syringes and other drug equipment can lead to the transmission of infections. People who inject drugs should use sterile equipment each time they inject. Prevention Point Philadelphia offers sterile drug equipment, as well as many other services, for people who use drugs.
Learn more about syringe exchange programs.
Hepatitis C virus
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection occurs at very high rates among people who use injection drugs. It’s particularly common among those who share injecting equipment and other drug paraphernalia. In Philadelphia, 60 percent of acute HCV patients report that they’ve used injection drugs.