Safe-Injection Strategies

There is no assuredly safe way to consume illicit drugs because it is impossible as a user to know exactly what the drug contains, or how it will affect you as an individual3. However, there are strategies that can be taken up in order to reduce your risk of harm. If you suspect that you or a friend are experiencing negative effects of a drug, call an ambulance immediately as every second counts.  

Below are a number of harm reduction strategies for reducing your risk when consuming illicit drugs:


Getting your drugs5:

  • Plan ahead to avoid making rash decisions and buying from an unknown supplier.

  • Know your supplier - either someone you have bought from yourself or has been recommended by a friend. Be wary of new or unknown sources.

  • Know what price to expect - too much drugs for too little money (or vice versa) could indicate impurity.


Taking your drugs3,5:

  • Start with a small dose. Tolerance depends on a number of factors and is highly individual so take a small dose the first time and see how you feel.

  • Avoid using drugs alone or in an isolated environment

  • Avoid mixing drugs

  • Study the effects of mixing illicit drugs with drugs you may be prescribed (SSRIs and MDMA dont mix well, for example).

  • Avoid injection because it carries additional risk of infection and blood vessel damage, and is the easiest way to overdose.

  • Avoid sharing needles. Use new, sanitary tools to avoid infections like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C

  • Be aware of tolerance - if you havent taken a drug in a while, take a lower dose than usual to avoid the risk of overdose or a bad trip.

  • Avoid re-dosing

  • Stay hydrated


Responding to negative effects3,5:

  • Know the signs of overdose and other adverse effects

  • Call an ambulance immediately if negative effects are suspected  

  • Inform paramedics or other first aid responders what and how much was consumed

  • See more resources for harm reduction below


Drug-specific harm reduction strategies:


Cocaine (coke)5:

  • Avoid alcohol because the combination leads to the production of a toxic chemical, cocaethylene, which is harmful to your liver. Cocaine makes you feel sober which can lead to dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.

  • Test cocaine for cuts like methamphetamine, amphetamine, methylone, etc. that create further risks1. Cocaine off the streets rarely comes pure.

  • When snorting cocaine, do so off a clean, clear surface and snort with an unused straw. Alternate nostrils and rinse with water to avoid build up and bleeding

  • Avoid injecting cocaine as it can cause damage to skin and veins, and is the most addictive way of taking cocaine.

  • Avoid cocaine if you have any pre-existing heart conditions or are pregnant


LSD (acid, Lucy)5:

  • Test your LSD because other hallucinogens that are more dangerous are sometimes sold in its place.

  • Plan your trip carefully and make adequate preparations to enhance your experience and avoid a bad trip. For example, take LSD in a familiar and safe space that will not trigger negative feelings, or feel unsafe or unsecure. If possible, take LSD with those you trust.

  • Avoid taking LSD if you are in a bad mental state, or are feeling down to avoid a bad trip.

  • Avoid carrying valuables as LSD can cause you to become  disoriented or forgetful.

  • Have a sober trip-sitter to look after you during your trip


MDMA (M, Molly, ecstasy, X, XTC)5:

  • Test your MDMA as it is often mixed with other chemicals, including caffeine and methamphetamine.

  • Dont redose too soon. It can take up to 3 hours to feel the effects of MDMA

  • Take breaks from dancing/partying to avoid heat stroke and dehydration. MDMA can affect your body temperature regulation




Resources for Harm Reduction


The Van4


The VAN is a mobile harm reduction initiative offers confidential services to anyone in Hamilton. Harm reduction supplies available in the VAN include:

  • Safe piercing kits

  • Cookers/spoons

  • 10 packs of 1cc syringes

  • 2 hit kits

  • Ties

  • 10 packs of 28g

  • 10 packs of 26.5g

  • 3ml syringes

  • 1cc syringes

  • Needle tips of different sizes

  • Alcohol swabs/prep pads

  • Sterile water

  • Sharps containers

  • Condoms

  • Lube

  • Educational pamphlets and information on things such as vein care, safer injection information, coping with triggers, etc.


The VAn also offers:

  • Information about safe injection

  • Referral cards for multiple services in the community including addiction counselling and detox

  • Used needle return

To contact the Van, call or text the number (905)317-9966, and they will arrange to meet you in a location of your choosing. The Van is available Monday - Saturday from 8pm - 12am.



Needle and Syringe Program2


The Needle and Syringe Program offers free materials and information for safer drug use and sex, as well as referrals, and instruction on harm reduction for drug users. This confidential service offers:

  • New needles & syringes

  • Sterile Water

  • Safe disposal of used needles

  • Cookers

  • Ties

  • Filters

  • Vitamin C

  • Alcohol Swabs

  • Condoms (male and female)

  • Dental Dams

  • Lubricant

  • Safe piercing kits

  • Other harm reduction supplies

  • Safe inhalation kits

  • Safe sex and safe needle use information


This service is available Monday - Friday from 9am - 5pm and is located at:

The AIDS Network

140 King St. E., Suite 101

Hamilton, ON


Other Needle Exchange Sites in Hamilton:


Alcohol Drugs and Gambling Public Health Services

21 Hunter Street East, 3rd Floor

Hamilton, ON

Tel: 905 546-3606


Elizabeth Fry Society (Women only)

85 Holton Ave. South

Hamilton, ON

(905) 527-3097


Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre

71 Rebecca Street

Hamilton, ON Tel:

905 522-3233





1. Cocaine Reagent Test Kit. (2017, September 19). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.reagent-tests.uk/product/cocaine-reagent-test-kit/


2. Needle and Syringe Program. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.aidsnetwork.ca/needle-syringe-program


3. Staying safe. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://drugaware.com.au/getting-the-facts/staying-safe/


4. The Van / Harm Reduction program. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.aidsnetwork.ca/van


5. Your harm reduction guide to safer drug use. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.drugsand.me/

Contact Details

Adrianna Michell
905.525.9140 ext. 22041

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