Substance Use & Harm Reduction

Algoma Public Health

Substance Use & Harm Reduction

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Substance Use refers to the use of drugs, and includes substances such as cigarettes, cannabis, alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. Substance use occurs on a spectrum, ranging from abstinence to substance use disorder (addiction).


Harm Reduction is a term used to describe programs, policies and practices that aim to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of both legal and illegal substance use. Harm reduction emphasizes the need to respect the rights of an individual to make their own choices, while increasing awareness regarding lower risk substance use.


It is important to recognize that substance use does not discriminate. Substance use disorders are more stigmatized than other health conditions, as society generally considers drug use to be a “choice” and repeated use to be a result of poor “self-control”. Stigmatizing people who use drugs increases health inequities and often prevents people from seeking and accessing health and social services. Changing the conversation around drug use is essential in changing the perceptions – shifting the focus of addiction from being a moral, social or criminal issue to a medical issue, which deserves treatment. (Toward the Heart)