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People who use substances

Harm reduction information for people who use substances, overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites and social services.
Last updated: January 7, 2022

We recognize that many of the public health messages being shared on COVID-19 are hard to practice when people are living outside, in a tent, in an SRO, or in a shelter. 

People who use drugs are already doing incredible work to keep communities safe and reduce the spread of infection. 

For people who use substances
  • COVID-19 is a virus that can cause respiratory infection and other health problems.

  • Fentanyl, benzodiazepines and other opioids can slow a person's breathing rate, so COVID-19 may increase the risk of overdose death from opioids.

  • Remember ways to prevent overdoses: use with someone or let someone know you’re using, start low and go slow, split your doses, or use less if you are feeling unwell
  • Avoid sharing supplies, such as cigarettes, joints, pipes, injecting equipment, containers for alcohol, utensils, and other supplies. If you have to share, wipe pipes with alcohol wipes or use new mouthpieces. 
  • Reduce close contact (e.g. shaking hands, hugging, kissing) and use condoms. 
  • Wash your hands or use wipes before preparing, handling or using your drugs. Prepare your drugs yourself.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use tissues. Throw tissues away as soon as possible and wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Clean surfaces with soap and water, alcohol wipes, bleach or hydrogen peroxide before preparing drugs if possible. Do not mix cleaning solutions.
  • Carry naloxone and have an overdose plan. 

Getting fully vaccinated with all recommended doses is the best way to prevent COVID-19 infection.


Register and receive an invitation to book a vaccine appointment:
  • Online at gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated, available in 12 different languages
  • By telephone through a provincial call centre (toll-free) at 1-833-838-2323, available in 140 different languages.
  • In-person at all Service BC offices. You will need to have a personal health number. Find a Service BC office.
Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination.
  • See the testing page for the latest information
  • Use the self-assessment tool to determine if you need testing
  • It is especially important for people who develop cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms to be tested if they are:
    • People living and working in communal settings such as shelters, group homes, assisted living and seniors’ residences
    • People who are homeless or have unstable housing
  • Buddy up when you are using. Using with a buddy is safer than using alone. Don’t use at the same time so there is always someone who can respond in the event of an overdose.
  • Find your “buddies” who can bring you food, harm reduction supplies, medicine, and substances so that you can stay well. You can also be a buddy to those who may need extra support. Check in on your buddies regularly. 
  • See if your buddy can pick up supplies including naloxone from a harm reduction site. 
  • Try to have the substances you need to stay well. Know that carrying large amounts may put you at risk by the police and other people looking to score. Consider alternatives to your drug of choice and prepare for potential supply disruptions.
  • You may go through involuntary withdrawal if your dealer gets sick. Have backup plans and be cautious if using a new supply.
  • Try to have the medications you need. Re-fills may be available directly through your pharmacist or by phone without having to see your physician. If you are feeling unwell and require medications, call your pharmacy in advance.
  • The province of British Columbia  with the BC Centre on Substance Use, issued interim guidance titled Risk Mitigation: in the Context of Dual Public Health Emergencies. This was developed for people who use substances to enable physical distancing and self-isolation measures, to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When responding to an opioid overdose there is a risk of infection, particularly if rescue breaths are given without protective equipment. This is why each take-home naloxone kit and facility overdose response box contains gloves and a CPR face shield.


The risk of infection is low relative to the very high risk of brain injury or death during an overdose. 


Taking basic precautions will minimize the risk of infection of both the person who overdoses and the responder.

 

  • Clean hands and put on gloves.
    • If the person experiencing the overdose is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, the responder should also wear a medical mask and eye protection, if available. 
  • Stimulate - try to rouse the person, encourage them to take big breaths.
  • Call 9-1-1 for additional support, especially if the person is unresponsive.
  • Administer naloxone - give two doses if needed.
  • Tilt their head back and check for any obstruction. Lift their chin to open the airway.
  • Provide rescue breaths to restore oxygen to the brain and administer additional naloxone as needed.
    • Remove mask and use a CPR face shield/breathing barrier to give rescue breaths.
    • The face shield has a one-way valve and a large impermeable area that protects the responder from respiratory secretions. 
    • After responding, dispose of the face shield and additional PPE before taking off gloves and wash/clean hands thoroughly. Replace mask.
  • Anyone not responding to the overdose should leave the room or immediate area.
  • If chest compressions are needed, gently place a towel or a piece of clothing over the person’s nose and mouth.
  • If you share a washroom with others, clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as knobs, taps, and flushers with soap and water, bleach, hydrogen peroxide or alcohol-based wipes (70%) regularly (at least twice per day). Do not mix different types of cleaning solutions.
  • If you cannot wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer, try to access alcohol-based hand wipes


For service operators

Registered harm reduction and naloxone sites in BC

  • BCCDC does not anticipate supply chain disruptions. 
  • Registered sites should continue to order supplies as needed weekly/monthly to avoid stockpiling.
  • Please continue to distribute supplies as usual, and note that if there is a specific request for supplies for an individual who requires quarantine or isolation, additional supplies may be provided for the 14-day period.
  • If you are awaiting your next order to arrive and are temporarily low on any supplies, connect to your local Harm Reduction Coordinator. Individuals can also be referred to nearby existing sites by using the site finder.
  • Please circulate this information to any secondary or satellite sites of your location. 

Overdose prevention services (OPS) & supervised consumption sites (SCS)

View the guidance document for information on responding to an overdose in an OPS and SCS:

Provincial Episodic Overdose Prevention Service (e-OPS) Protocol

This document provides guidance on providing overdose prevention services outside of an established supervised consumption or overdose prevention site (SCS/OPS) such as in acute care, shelters, supportive housing or other social service settings. This guidance supports staff who may receive requests from patients, clients or residents to observe substance use and respond to overdose or may recognize the benefit of providing this service. 

Continuing essential services

Continuing essential social services while integrating public health principles to minimize transmission of COVID-19

Shelters, single room occupancy housing, overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites are exempt from the Provincial Health Officer’s orders on events and gatherings. Service delivery should continue as much as possible.

The greatest health risk to a client at on OPS or SCS site is overdose.

While continuing to provide essential services, it is encouraged your services:

  • Encourage and provide access to hand hygiene
  • Encourage respiratory etiquette (e.g. cough or sneeze into elbow or sleeve, dispose of tissues properly)
  • Disinfect high touch surfaces frequently
  • When possible without limiting access, increase physical space between individuals

More information

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