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Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction

Harm reduction

Learn how to get and use naloxone, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. Also sold under the brand names Narcan and Ezvio.

Harm reduction principles

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. 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.

Harm reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. Learn more at the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

Read the 2022 Annual Harm Reduction Report of the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction.

Naloxone (Narcan®)

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 Kloxxado. Both are intranasal sprays, but Kloxxado has 8mg of naloxone and Narcan has 4mg. Narcan is the recommended brand because the dosage of Kloxxado is much higher than is necessary in most overdoses.

Although naloxone is a prescription medication, it is available to all Pennsylvanians through a statewide standing order (PDF). A standing order allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone without requiring an individual prescription.

Learn how to recognize an opioid overdose and use naloxone.

Personal health strategies

These harm reduction strategies help people who use drugs avoid disease and overdose:

  • Use clean/new spoons, cookers, needles, cotton, tourniquets.
  • Use alcohol swabs and sterile water packets.
  • Carry naloxone.
  • Safely dispose of used needles.
  • Try not to use alone or let others use alone – ensure someone is there to call for help if an overdose occurs. If you do, let someone know you’re using or call Never Use Alone ( 1-800-484-3731) to ensure someone is able 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

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 are able to use drugs that they bring into an OPS, like heroin, under medical supervision to prevent a fatal overdose. The first sanctioned OPS in the United States opened in late 2021. The New York City program reversed 59 overdoses in its first three weeks. At an OPS, people also have the opportunity 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.

Syringe services

Syringe service programs (SSP) are well-established interventions supported by health and social service providers including the CDC. Prevention Point Philadelphia , like many other SSPs, provides clean syringes, HIV testing, linkage to medical care and medications for opioid use disorder, as well as the opportunity to safely dispose of used syringes.

Providing clean syringes is vital because sharing syringes and other equipment can lead to the transmission of infections like hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV. HCV infection occurs at very high rates among people who inject drugs, particularly among those who share injecting equipment and other materials like cookers. In Philadelphia, 60 percent of acute HCV patients report that they’ve injected drugs.

Studies have shown that SSPs reduce HCV transmission and even prevented an estimated 10,000 new cases of HIV among people who inject drugs in the first 10 years of their existence in Philadelphia.

These are just some of the benefits of these programs. Learn more about syringe service programs.

Sharps disposal

Used sharps

Used sharps, such as needles, syringes, and other sharp items, 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.
  • 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.

  • Dropbox
  • 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.