Caring for your family

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Strategies to keep people safe and well until they are ready to change.

Harm reduction has been around for a long time, it is an effective way that individuals communities and governments reduce the harms associated with substance use.

Harm Reduction recognises that abstinence is the most effective strategy in avoiding drug-related harms. It also recognises that individuals will choose to continue to use drugs and that drugs are a part of our society.

We use harm reduction strategies in many aspects of daily life.

Examples of harm reduction can include:

  • Wearing a mask and social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19
  • Using contraception like condoms or ‘the pill’ to prevent pregnancy and STI’s
  • Wearing sunscreen to prevent skin damage
  • Putting on a seatbelt to protect you in the event of a road accident

The same principles used to reduce harm in the above examples are applied to the management of substance use.


Overdose is a big concern for many people who love someone who is using drugs.

Overdose risk is increased when:

  • The person is alone
  • They use drugs again after having a break – released from prison, detox, rehab, hospital
  • They are combining different drugs particularly & depressants (opioids)

It is important for families to be educated on the signs and symptoms of overdose so that they can respond appropriately.

If you have a loved one using opioids or early in recovery it is a good idea to have some Naloxone also known as Narcan in your first aid box at home.

Naloxone comes in a nasal spray (Nyxoid) or a preloaded syringe (Prenoxad). The medication is called an opioid antagonist, which temporarily reverses the effects of opioid overdose, allowing the person to breathe again while help is on its way.

You can purchase Naloxone over the counter at the pharmacy or with a script from your GP. QuIHN also provides Naloxone free of charge, no script, no ID or appointment required.

If you are interested in getting some Naloxone or would like some more information on drug overdose, give us a call or drop into your local QuIHN Needle and Syringe Program.

Click here to find your nearest Needle and Syringe Program.

Keeping the communication open

This can be a tricky time for families, keeping an open line of communication and ‘holding space’ for your loved one may be challenging at times.

Practical tips you can do to support open communication with a person who is using substances.

  • Be patient and look for cues of when they want to talk
  • Listen to understand not to respond
  • Be positive and acknowledge success, no matter how small
  • Remind them you are there for them if they need you
  • Stay in touch, particularly if they are not living at home

QuIHN offers support for families of people who use substances, looking after yourself is an important part of caring for others.

Mental Health

The start of a mental illness may be independent of substance use, or it may be:

  • Caused by substance use
  • linked to substance use
  • mistaken for substance use.

Substances may be used by a person to self-medicate as relief for an undiagnosed mental condition. Substances may also be used in addition to or instead of prescribed medication for a diagnosed condition. Substance use may exacerbate symptoms of a mental condition, whether treated or not. A large proportion of people with a dependency on substances also have a mental health condition.

At QuIHN our services provide support and skill building for anyone experiencing substance use and mental health issues. Find your local service.

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Harm reduction has been around for a long time, it is an effective way that individuals communities and governments reduce the harms associated with substance use.