Safer Choices for People Who Use Drugs

In recent years, both fatal and non-fatal overdoses involving opioids continued to increase. In 2021, overdoses reached historic levels nationwide and in New York State. In the U.S., there were nearly 107,000 drug overdose deaths occurring in 2021, with over 80,000 involving opioids.

  • Every 5-and-a-half minutes in the U.S., someone dies from a drug overdose.
  • Fentanyl's unanticipated and profuse presence in the drug supply is a key contributor to the increase in overdose deaths.
  • Overdose deaths are preventable through the use of harm reduction measures.
  • When you use drugs with friends, testing your drugs for fentanyl and carrying naloxone are examples of harm reduction that can save lives.
  • Find your local Syringe Exchange Program and Drug User Health Hub (PDF) for services and supplies for all people who use drugs and their friends and family members.

Recommended Actions and Resources

Community and Family Members

  • Naloxone (also known by the brand name, Narcan®) is a medication that can be used in an emergency to reverse overdoses involving opioids. It is legal to possess. Because substances may contain opioids without the user's knowledge, anyone using drugs should have naloxone available and know how to use it.
  • If you have prescription drug coverage as part your health insurance, the Naloxone Co-payment Assistance Program (N-CAP) will cover co-payments up to $40 resulting in no or lower out-of-pocket expenses for most individuals.
  • Check the Community Calendar of Opioid Overdose Trainings for opioid prevention trainings near you. Learn how to identify and respond to an opioid overdose and be trained in how to administer naloxone.
  • If you call 911 to report an overdose, you and the person who has overdosed will not be charged with possession of a controlled substance. Read Facts about the 911 Good Samaritan Law and share this information with others.
  • The New York State AIDS Institute Office of Drug User Health (ODUH) is committed to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers who use drugs through the promotion of harm reduction practices, through accessible health care and supportive services. With a long history of serving people living with HIV/AIDS, HCV and providing quality harm reduction services throughout New York State. For more information please go to or e-mail questions to

There are Safer Choices for People Who Use Drugs:

Harm Reduction Saves Lives

Harm Reduction is a social movement built upon the mobilization of people most affected by prohibitionist drug policy and use, including formerly incarcerated people, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer communities, people who actively use drugs, and Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. It is a belief in and respect for the rights of People who use drugs and strategies that include building leadership among people who use drugs and supporting communities in reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use and on the harms associated with the context of drug use such as racism, homelessness, violence and poverty. Harm reduction is guided by the following main principles:

Health and Dignity:

  • Accepting people who use drugs as they are and treating them with dignity and compassion
  • Promoting and prioritizing quality of life for people who us drugs

Patient Centered:

  • Non-judgmental and non-coercive low threshold service provision.
  • Considering where, when, and how services are provided to be the most accessible and appropriate for those they serve.

Participant Involvement:

  • Ensures that people who use drugs and those with a history of drug use routinely are actively involved in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.

Participant Autonomy:

  • People who use drugs are experts in their own lives.
  • People who use drugs are the primary agents for reducing the harms of their drug use and should be empowered to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use

Recognize Inequalities and Injustices:

  • An equity lens must be used to understand that Substance Use Disorders and the harms of drug use are increased by social conditions including systemic racism, abuse, trauma, grief, loss, and social determinants of health — such as low income and inadequate housing. Harm Reduction recognizes the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect people’s ability to deal with drug related harm.

Pragmatism and Realism:

  • Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger that can be associated with licit and/or illicit drug use.
  • Accepts, for better and or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.