If you know what it’s like to live on the streets or happen to be using drugs, then you know how important it is to be making decisions on the daily about your safety, your journey, and your truth. This page was developed by youth like yourself, and is a safer space to learn about how to keep your health in mind. No matter what choices you’re making, your truth and experiences matter, and you’re not in this alone!

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Substance Use

Substance use refers to the use of various psychoactive substances, including alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, prescription medications, inhalants, and solvents. Psychoactive means that the substance has some effect on mental processes, such as mood, thinking, or behaviour. Most Canadians use some kind of substance in their lifetime, so if you use, know that you’re not alone. People use substances for different reasons, like coping with physical or emotional pain, personal enjoyment, relaxing, or socializing.

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Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is the idea that…

  1. Drug use isn’t good or bad.
  2. If you’re going to choose to do something risky, you will do it in the safest way possible. For example, wearing a helmet when you ride a bike, using a condom when you have sex, or using a new, unused needle when you inject drugs.
  3. It is possible to make informed decisions about your drug use and sexual practices.
  4. You can be free to think about why you use drugs without judgment.

If you are a street-involved youth, we are here to support you in taking ownership of your health decisions that affect your well-being. Everyone deserves to make choices free from stigma and judgment around drug use, HIV, and being street-involved.

Harm reduction is an approach that tries to meet the person where they are at with an understanding that people use substances for different reasons.

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“Choosing Harm Reduction” is a powerful testament to how harm reduction and non-judgmental support can lead to youth empowerment, resiliency, community, and solidarity.

This video was created by Resource Assistance for Youth, Inc. (RaY) in partnership with CANFAR to engage street-involved youth in exploring the meaning of harm reduction through spoken word poetry and digital media.

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Injection Drug Use & HIV

Certain groups of people are at higher risk of HIV due to how HIV is transmitted, the mode of transmission, and other social factors that may increase the risk of being exposed to HIV. The HIV prevalence rate among youth who are street involved (between ages 15 and 24) is 5x higher than in youth who are not street involved. Among youth who inject drugs (between ages 15 and 24), HIV prevalence is 15x higher than in youth who do not inject drugs. If you are at risk of getting HIV from sharing any drug equipment, know that there are ways to minimize risk!

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Heart Beating

The human heart beats approximately 4,000 times per hour. And each pulse, each throb, each palpitation is a trophy engraved with the words, 'You are still alive. You are still alive.' Act like it."

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Understanding Dependence

Whether you use drugs or not, our brains are constantly influenced by the outside world. Our brains have the capacity to respond to substances we use, as well as experiences we have. When people are experiencing difficult circumstances, we may choose to take substances that make us feel better. Chronic substance use leads to more long-lasting changes in our brains, and when we feel we have to take a substance to feel good on a regular basis, we become dependent on that drug.

Dependence occurs when, over 12 months, we:

  1. Need to take more of the drug for a longer period of time than we had initially planned
  2. Develop a tolerance to the same amount of drug and need more.
  3. Feel withdrawal effects when we don’t consume the substance.
  4. Feel like maybe we should be able to control use better, or just think about the substance a lot.
  5. Spend a lot of time recovering from drug effects.
  6. Give up a lot of social activities or things we do for fun in order to make time for drug use.
  7. Keep using even is psychological or physical problems start to occur or worsen.


Dependence can happen to anyone with any substance, and there is nothing wrong with being dependent on a substance. If you find that being dependent on a substance is starting to affect you, know that there is help!

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Safer Substance Use

You deserve to do things that make you happy without shame. We want to make sure that people who do not want to stop using drugs, or feel like they cannot stop using drugs, are provided with strategies for safer substance use and safer sex.

1) Education and Outreach

Harm Reduction programs prevent suicide, teach coping skills, provide information on health, mentor youth, and allow people the right to self-determination and personal resilience.

2) Syringe Exchange Programs and Safe Injection Sites

Syringe exchange programs exchange used needles for new needles. Safe Injection sites allow people to use drugs in a safe environment where workers check for signs of overdose and/or infection.

3) Methadone Programs

Methadone is a legal substance used as a treatment for people who are dependent on opioids. Methadone programs offer interventions like counselling and other health services.

Listen to the full Self-Care playlist on Spotify.


Self-care is about taking care of the most important person in your life—you! So often, we live in a world that tells us many confusing messages about how to feel about ourselves, how to feel in our own skin, and what makes us worthy or unworthy. But the reality is, we are all worthy of love, care and compassion—and this journey starts with you.

Self-care is about taking the time to care for your mind, body and spirit. This includes your mental, physical and emotional well-being. Taking time for yourself doesn’t mean you don’t care about other people or things; it means you are making time for YOU because you’re important!

When we learn how to love, take care, and have compassion for ourselves, we are in a better position to take better care of our own health and well-being, which impacts how we interact with others and take care of our relationships with other people.

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You Deserve Support!

At the end of the day, no matter where you are in your journey, there are supports out there for you, and people who will understand and want to support you. If your are looking for help with substance use, access to HIV testing, counselling, or other support services, know that help exists.

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Thanks to Thrive for producing What The Health?!

A big thanks to the Public Health Leadership Group at Thrive for working with youth in their community to develop this zine for other street-involved youth.