Programming Connection

Harm Reduction Dispensing Units 

Ottawa Public Health


How Does the Program Work?

Harm reduction dispensing unit

Signage on the HRDU

Harm reduction dispensing units provide pre-packaged supplies to people who are looking for safer injection supplies and/or safer inhalation supplies. The HRDUs are available 24 hours a day and make supplies available when face-to-face services are closed.

The dispensing units are refurbished machines and contain enhanced security features such as heavy-duty Plexiglas fronts reinforced with bars, and padlocks to prevent break-ins. The unit can have a dedicated and locked power supply and is bolted to the ground or building. Machines are located outdoors in well-lit areas and have compressors that prevent supplies from overheating in the summer and freezing in the winter. The machines can function in the snow and the rain with some maintenance (e.g., snow removal in the winter).

The supplies in the HRDUs are free, but they require a token for access. Tokens are obtained from needle and syringe program staff at participating community health centres or the Ottawa Public Health needle and syringe program during harm reduction program hours. This approach helps to ensure that people accessing supplies through the units have contact with harm reduction program staff. When clients request a token they receive education about safer drug use and safe equipment disposal and information about other health, social and treatment services that are available to them. Once a client uses their token to obtain equipment from the HRDU, they receive an extra token inside their supplies for subsequent use. Information on what is available in the package as well as where to get additional supplies or harm reduction services is found on a menu on the Plexiglas front of the HRDU.

Content of safer injection (fit-paks) and safer inhalation kits

Safer injection supplies are packaged in a small biohazard container called a fit-pak. Fit-paks have two sides, one to hold unused supplies and the other to hold used needles. Inside the safer injection kit there are three sterile needles, three sterile waters, three cookers, six alcohol swabs and one tourniquet. Safer inhalation kits are packed in baggies and include three glass stems, nine brass screens, two mouthpieces and two push sticks.

The HRDUs are currently in four locations in Ottawa:

  • Ottawa Public Health’s Site Needle & Syringe Program – 179 Clarence Street
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre – 221 Nelson Street
  • Somerset West Community Health Centre – 55 Eccles Street
  • Carlington Community Health Centre – 900 Merivale Road

Needle drop-off box located next to a HRDU

Staff at these agencies are trained to operate the HRDUs and are responsible for preparing the kits and for reporting any issues they are experiencing with the units. The HRDUs are monitored by agency staff who ensure that they are stocked and are in working order. All HRDUs are placed beside an outdoor needle drop-off box, which allows for 24-hour safe disposal of needles and inhalation supplies.