Substance Abuse Prevention and Control

Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction Unit

The Division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control’s (SAPC) Harm Reduction Unit is focused on expanding access to harm reduction and overdose prevention services provided by Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health’s contracted Engagement and Overdose Prevention (EOP) Hubs, also known as syringe service providers, to reduce the number of deaths related to opioid overdoses in LA County.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is an evidence-based public health approach that aims to reduce the negative consequences associated with substance use. Harm reduction focuses on:
  • "Meeting people where they are".
  • Recognizes that many people aren’t willing or able to stop using substances.
  • Focuses on decreasing the negative consequences associated with drug use.

Harm reduction adopts a variety of safer use strategies including:
  • Syringe service programs.
  • Providing medications for addiction treatment (MAT).
  • Peer programs.
  • Safe consumption sites and more.

Statement on Harm Reduction Services in Santa Monica. (Updated - February 2024)

Top 5 Myths

Learn about the myths surrounding Harm Reduction.
  • Is harm reduction evidence-based?
    Yes. The goal of harm reduction is to reduce risk, such as the risk of overdose and infection associated with substance use and other behaviors. Harm reduction also accepts that risk is inherent to many human activities. Examples of effective harm reduction programs include wearing a helmet or a seatbelt, arranging for another driver after having too much to drink, or taking medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

    Harm reduction strategies reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use through practical steps, such as making naloxone (an opioid overdose antidote) widely available to reverse opioid overdose and providing sterile syringes to people who use drugs to help prevent infection. Scientific studies of these harm reduction interventions demonstrate clear reductions in overdose deaths and infections when harm reduction services are offered in a community.

    Getting people to stop using drugs is not the main objective of harm reduction, although the goals of harm reduction can include an individual’s decision to choose abstinence. Harm reduction aims to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, reducing overdoses, and offering people the resources they need including housing, medical, substance use treatment, and mental health services.
  • Is there oversight of harm reduction services?
    Yes. Los Angeles County financially supports and certifies organizations to offer a series of harm reduction services to people living in Los Angeles County. These include:
    1. Sterile syringe distribution and collection: Giving someone sterile (unused) syringes (needles) will decrease the spread of blood-borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis because they will not need to share or reuse syringes. Harm reduction programs distribute sterile syringes and collect used syringes in the community.
    2. Sterile smoking equipment distribution: If people are smoking their drugs, providing clean smoking equipment can decrease the spread of any infections spread through saliva or infections in the throat or lungs. Smoking drugs has a lower risk of overdose compared to injecting drugs.
    3. Other sterile supplies: Sterile water, alcohol swabs, filters, tourniquets, mouthpieces, and lip balm reduce the risk of infection or other health complications.
    4. Naloxone: During an opioid overdose, a person can stop breathing and can die. Naloxone is the life-saving emergency medication that reverses an opioid overdose and allows a person to breathe normally again.
    5. Testing strips and other drug checking: Drug testing strips are available for fentanyl, xylazine, and benzodiazepines to check whether there are any unexpected substances contained in a supply of drugs. Drug checks using laboratory equipment is also available at designated community centers. Drug checks help people make informed decisions about the drugs they might use and help reduce unintended consequences, such as overdose.
    6. Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT): These prescription medications aid the recovery process by decreasing cravings, alleviating withdrawal symptoms, and contributing to a greater sense of well-being.
    7. Wound care services: Bandages, antiseptic and alcohol swabs prevent or minimize infections or other skin complications for people who are using drugs.
    8. Primary care, or specialized medical or mental health care: Routine healthcare can catch illnesses early and stop them from becoming more serious. Having access to specialty medical or mental health treatment can also reduce any serious problems that could worsen someone’s health.
    9. HIV and Hepatitis C testing and treatment: By ensuring that people know their HIV and Hepatitis C status, harm reduction programs decrease rates of transmitting the infections and connect people to necessary medical treatment.
    10. Substance use treatment: Harm reduction programs provide access to residential care (where people live on-site at a treatment program) or outpatient care when people are ready to participate in substance use treatment.
    11. Peer support: It can be helpful to have someone who has lived experience with substance use to create a non-judgmental and caring environment. Peers can understand the challenges, struggles, and stigma faced by people using drugs and can build trust.
  • Are harm reduction services only offered in parks and streets?
    No. LA County Department of Public Health supports a network of Engagement and Overdose Prevention (EOP) Hubs through which people in LA County can access harm reduction services. A full list of addresses and hours of operation can be found here. Additionally, naloxone is available through pharmacies in LA County as described here and through the access points listed on the LA County Department of Health Service’s Overdose Education Naloxone Distribution Program. LA County-contracted harm reduction services include daily outreach to people who are at the highest risk of overdose.
  • Do people need to provide identification to receive these services?
    No. Los Angeles County minimizes barriers to harm reduction services. At some programs, people may be asked to provide initials and a date of birth which can help the contracted agency quantify how many people are receiving services. People who do not provide this information are still offered services. LA County is committed to expanding access to harm reduction services and advancing the health, well-being, and safety of all our residents, regardless of insurance or immigration status.
  • Do harm reduction services encourage drug use?
    No. Harm reduction does not encourage drug use. In fact, people using harm reduction services are five times more likely to participate in drug treatment and three times more likely to reduce or stop injecting than those who have never accessed harm reduction services.

    Like wearing a helmet or seatbelt, harm reduction does not promote or increase drug use any more than using these safety measures promote reckless behavior in biking or driving. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and various state and community-based organizations shows that when people who use drugs interact with an organization offering harm reduction services, they are more likely to enter substance use treatment, detox, or to stop injecting drugs.

The Overdose Epidemic

The overdose epidemic has resulted from many causes leading to a staggering increase in opioid-related deaths. Explore the following sources in understanding the history of the use of opioid and other drugs and the causes of the present-day epidemic.

DPH-SAPC Op-Ed on the Drug Overdose Crisis

For SAPC Data Reports and Briefs, click here.

Accessing Naloxone, Drug Testing & Test Strips

Naloxone is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medication that reverses an opioid overdose. It acts as an opioid receptor antagonist – meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. In the event of an opioid overdose, naloxone can quickly restore breathing to an individual whose breathing has slowed or stopped.

Access Naloxone from a Pharmacy
Naloxone is available to people with Medi-Cal and Medicare with a prescription from their doctor or can be supplied by participating pharmacies without a prescription. Additionally, many private insurances also cover the cost of naloxone, for more information call your insurance provider.

Pharmacy Locations that Furnish Naloxone without a clinician’s prescription.

Pharmacists interested in supplying naloxone may visit the California State Board of Pharmacy website.
Distributing Naloxone in LA County
The California Department of Health Care Services’ (DHCS) Naloxone Distribution Project (NDP) is an initiative to prevent deaths due to opioid-related overdose through the provision of free naloxone.

All NDP applicants must submit a prescription or standing order for naloxone. If an organization does not have a standing order, one can be obtained from the California Department of Public Health’s website.

Administering Naloxone
The Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) program is a program of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) which aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths in LA County by teaching people at risk of an overdose, and those close to them, how to prevent, recognize and respond to overdose using naloxone. OEND includes a list of existing community naloxone access points prioritizing naloxone for individuals at highest risk for overdose.

Accessing Fentanyl Test Strips (FTS)
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent causing a sharp, nationwide increase in overdose deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl which has contaminated heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, illicitly manufactured pills, and other recreational drugs. Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a form of inexpensive drug testing technology that can help detect the presence of fentanyl and other fentanyl-analogs in a drug sample prior to use.

Information about fentanyl testing is available via: CDPH Fentanyl Testing Fact Sheet

Fentanyl Test Strips can be accessed via:

Fentanyl Test Strips can be purchased via the vendor listed below:
Drug Checking and Accessing Test Strips
Xylazine is a sedative drug used by veterinarians to anesthetize animals that is increasingly present in the illicit drug supply. Xylazine is not safe for use in humans and may result in serious and life-threatening side effects including skin wounds, low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, and slowed breathing. People should administer naloxone during an overdose to block any opioids involved in an overdose, even if that overdose may involve xylazine, and call 911 to ensure that the person who overdosed obtains emergency medical care. Xylazine test strips (XTS) are a form of inexpensive drug testing technology that can help detect the presence of xylazine in liquid or powder substances. However, XTS do not show the amount, purity, or potency of the xylazine in the sample.

Xylazine Test Strips can be accessed via:

Xylazine Test Strips can be purchased via the vendors listed below:

Spectroscopy toxicology testing, that can test a variety of substances, is available for people that use drugs in LA County. Residents of LA County can consider bringing their drugs to be tested at part of a pilot program being run through UCLA, which uses Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) machines to analyze drug samples in about 15-20 minutes and is available for free through or through contacting for locations and hours.

Alternatively, selected Engagement and Overdose Prevention (EOP) Hubs may offer spectroscopy toxicology testing. Please refer to the list of EOP Hubs below to inquire about the availability of on-site drug checking services.

Finding Harm Reduction Services

Engagement and Overdose Prevention (EOP) Hubs
The Engagement and Overdose Prevention (EOP) Hubs are LA County contracted syringe service providers who provide harm reduction services, peer-led education, and peer-led support services. Harm reduction services include conducting syringe exchanges, providing safer use supplies including safer smoking equipment, distributing naloxone overdose reversal kits, and connecting participants to other important services and programs such as:

  • Education about overdose prevention and harm reduction practices.
  • Naloxone distribution and education.
  • Screening, care, treatment for viral hepatitis and HIV.
  • Referrals to medications for addiction treatment, and other medical, mental health, and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment services.
  • Fentanyl test strips distribution and education.
LA County EOP Hubs
Click here to view EOP Hub Program Schedule (PDF)

Map Legends
  • Storefront / Fixed Storefront / fixed locations
  • Off-site Location Off-site/Mobile locations

Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Resources

Community-based organizations and individuals may utilize the following resources and information designed by SAPCs Harm Reduction Unit to support efforts to expand access to harm reduction and overdose prevention services.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Contact Us

Substance Abuse Prevention and Control (SAPC) Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) professional staff are available to provide trainings and presentations to a variety of audiences on various harm reduction topics. The HRU will try to accommodate requests and provide appropriate referrals as needed.

If you would like to request a presentation, please click here.

For any other questions, please contact us at

If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, also known as addiction, we can help.
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Public Health has made reasonable efforts to provide accurate translation. However, no computerized translation is perfect and is not intended to replace traditional translation methods. If questions arise concerning the accuracy of the information, please refer to the English edition of the website, which is the official version.
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