Why We Need Harm Reduction Facilities

March 13, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

Supervised Consumption Sites (SCS) and Overdose Prevention services (OPS) are evidence-based harm reduction strategies essential to our overdose crisis response. SCS and OPS are safe, judgement-free places where people who use drugs can find supports towards a pathway to hope and healing, test their substances and receive emergency overdose support if needed. In 2018, there were more than 679,431 visits to SCS/OPS in B.C., with 4,101 overdoses survived.

There has never been a death at an SCS or OPS in B.C.

SCS and OPS create opportunities to connect people who use drugs to appropriate health and social services to help forge a pathway to recovery. They are often the first point of contact into the health system for people who use drugs. Still, there are common misconceptions about SCS and OPS that are important to address.


Do supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites make safe neighbourhoods unsafe?

No.  SCS and OPS are set up by health authorities in neighbourhoods and communities where people are dying from overdose and likely to use the service. If these services are opening in your area, it is because your community needs them to keep people safe and save lives.

Research on supervised consumption services in B.C. has shown that these facilities help reduce public drug use and drug-related litter (such as discarded needles), as service providers are required to recover any needles that have been discarded in the area around the site.


Do supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites lead to more drug use? Don’t they enable people to continue using drugs?

SCS and OPS do not lead to more drug use or encourage people to try drugs. Research has shown that visitors to supervised consumption services in B.C. had been injecting drugs for an average of 16 years. This highlights that if SCS did not exist, people would be using drugs elsewhere in the community, potentially in dangerous or public environments.


 Isn’t detox a better way to help people who use drugs get better and deal with the opioid crisis?

Withdrawal management programs (also known as detox) should always be paired with other forms of treatment, such as opioid agonist treatment and harm reduction services. Detox alone is not enough to fix the overdose emergency and abstinence doesn’t work for everyone. Access to services that meet people where they are is an important, evidence-based way to save lives. SCS and OPS are a key part of this approach. 


Why do we need supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites?

On average, four people die of overdose in B.C. every day. More than 50% of British Columbians recognize that opioid use is impacting their communities, and almost one in five Canadians say they have a close family member or friend affected. While this shows the scale of the challenge in addressing the overdose emergency, it also highlights that finding the most effective solution concerns all of us.

We need supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites because, as evidence shows, they reduce the social harms of drug use – from preventing the transfer of infectious disease (such as HIV and hepatitis C) to the presence of discarded needles.

But most importantly, we need SCS and OPS because they save the lives of friends, family and community members and help connect them to a pathway to hope and healing.  

Get informed – learn more about harm reduction.