Substance use health and harm reduction


Many substances can alter someone’s mental, emotional, or physical state; these include, but are not limited to, alcohol, cannabis, nicotine (found in tobacco and some vaping products), and caffeine.

All substance use carries some risk, making it important to consider its short-term and long-term effects on your wellbeing as a student. When using substances that are not regulated, you will not know the exact contents without drug checking (testing).

Not using substances altogether has the lowest risk. However, if you are using drugs, you can make a plan to reduce possible harms.

Harm reduction for fentanyl and accidental drug poisoning

Fentanyl, an opioid, is a strong painkiller that is being mixed into the unregulated drug supply in Vancouver. A very small amount of fentanyl can be fatal. Fentanyl has been found in all unregulated drugs. Benzodiazepines are also increasingly mixed into the drug supply. You can learn more about fentanyl and about benzodiazepines on the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website.

If you use or intend to use unregulated drugs, consider the following:

Find out more by taking the SAVE lives: Harm Reduction and Naloxone Training Canvas course. If you want to request a workshop on this topic you can do so from UBC Wellness Centre and AMS Peer Support.

Fentanyl test strips

Test strips for drug checking can look for fentanyl in a small amount of a substance mixed in water.

Use the UBC Harm Reduction Resources List and Map to find out where you can pick up free and anonymous fentanyl test strips. You can also access the following UBC locations:

  • AMS Resource Groups Lobby on the second floor in the AMS Nest beside the Hatch Art Gallery on the resource table upon entry
  • AMS Peer Support, Room 3125, on the third floor of the AMS Nest
  • The AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), Room 3130, on the third floor of the AMS Nest, on the resource table outside the centre
  • Nurse on Campus booth in first-year residences during the academic year. Nurses can show you how they work if you need a demonstration. 
  • The UBC Wellness Centre resource table, room 1400 in the UBC Life Building

Drug checking (testing)

Drug checking (testing) provides life-saving information about the harmful and even deadly contaminants that drugs may contain, including fentanyl. Drug checking allows an individual to make informed decisions around using a substance because it informs individuals of the exact drug contents.

Find drug checking services in British Columbia, including safer consumption sites and drug alerts.

Drug checking services are available at UBC Vancouver at the UBC Life Building. Check the UBC Wellness Centre Instagram for when the service is available.

Drug checking is done with an FTIR spectrometer and test strips to analyze any drug or substance. It is anonymous and free. Checking is provided by Get Your Drugs Tested.

Responding to accidental drug poisoning

If you, or someone you are with, needs to call emergency services to respond to accidental drug poisoning, even if you have any substances on you, you are protected by the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. In British Columbia, as of Jan 31, 2023, you may also be protected by the decriminalization exception. Under this exemption, individuals over 18 will not face criminal consequences for carrying under a combined total of 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances, including in instances of calling emergency services because of drug poisoning.

To learn more about the Good Samaritan Act, BC’s decriminalization exemption, and to find out how to respond to accidental drug poisoning, enrol in the SAVE Lives: Harm Reduction and Naloxone Training Canvas course.

Naloxone kits

Naloxone is a medication that reverses accidental drug poisoning from fentanyl and other opioids. Several UBC locations offer free naloxone kits or access to use naloxone in the event of drug poisoning.

Kits are free and anonymous for people who could experience accidental drug poisoning from the toxic drug supply in British Columbia, or those who might witness someone experiencing drug poisoning.

UBC Wellness Centre

Drop-in fentanyl test strip and naloxone kit pick-up and training are available weekly at the Wellness Centre, Room 1400 in the UBC Life Building.

Training consists of going over the components of the kit, signs of opioid drug poisoning, and how to use the kit.

AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre

Drop by during opening hours and get training and a kit from the staff at the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) on the third floor of the AMS Nest, to the right of the main elevators.

BC pharmacies

If you are looking for a naloxone kit immediately, you can take an online Naloxone training and/or pick up a kit at any BC pharmacy.

The intentional use of substances to facilitate sexual assault

Using drugs, including alcohol, to deliberately create a situation in which a person is incapacitated (and therefore cannot give consent) in order to pursue sexual contact or attention is substance-facilitated sexual assault.

Find out what to do if you think someone may have done this to you, if you're trying to help others who may have experienced or could experience this, or if you think you or someone you know may have caused someone harm.

Learn more

When to seek help

If you are curious about seeking help, consider the following questions:

  • How do you feel about the amount you drink and/or use, the amount of time you spend drinking and/or using, and the frequency in which you drink and/or use?
  • Has anyone raised concerns about your drinking and/or substance use?
  • Has alcohol and/or other drug use been affecting your grades, learning, or finances?
  • Has alcohol and/or other drug use affected your ability to attend classes or labs, complete coursework, or participate in group meetings?
  • Has alcohol and/or other drug use affected your relationships or responsibilities with friends, family, or partner(s)?
  • Do you feel guilty about your drinking and/or substance use?
  • Have you tried and been unsuccessful in cutting down on your use of alcohol and/or other drugs?
  • Do you find yourself drinking alcohol and/or using substances at inappropriate times?
  • Do you drink and/or use substances in secret?
  • Does your drinking and/or substance use ever scare you?
  • Do you wish to change your relationship with alcohol and/or other substances?

If you wish to continue reflecting on your relationship with substances, you can find support options and more resources below.

Apps and interactive resources

The following websites and apps have been carefully chosen by health professionals at UBC. They’re easy and accessible tools you can use at any time, to help you learn more about substance use.

  • HealthLink BC
    Call 811 at any time during the day to get information on substance use and support. 
  • Here to Help
    Download a workbook to help you reflect on your substance use.
  • Toward the Heart
    Get more information about opioid drug poisoning, naloxone, and other harm reduction strategies. You can also find out where to pick up a naloxone kit across BC.
  • Foundry
    Find alcohol and substance use self-check tools and learn about different types of substances.
  • TAO Self-Help
    Sign up with your UBC student email for tools to help you reflect on your substance use.

Peer support

It might be easier to talk with a trained student about substance use. They may understand what you’re going through and can offer helpful resources.

  • UBC Student Recovery Community
    The UBC Student Recovery Community (SRC) is a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space for students who are in recovery, or curious to learn about their relationship with alcohol, drugs, and/or addictive behaviours.
  • AMS Peer Support
    Get free, confidential one-on-one peer support, naloxone training for individuals and groups, fentanyl test strips, peer support group sessions, and workshops on mental health and harm reduction.

Professional help

If you think a health or mental health professional could help, here are some services available to you:

  • Access and Assessment Centre
    Call or visit in person for emergency or non-emergency mental health and substance use services.
  • UBC Counselling Services
    If you’re struggling with substance use to the point that it’s affecting your daily life, it may be helpful to speak with a Wellness Advisor about your concerns.
  • UBC Student Health Service
    Book a medical appointment for your substance use concerns.

24/7 services

  • Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service
    Call for free, confidential information, or receive a referral to education, prevention, and treatment services for any type of substance use concern.
  • Here2Talk
    Call, chat online, or use the mobile app to get free, immediate, 24/7 mental health counselling, available in various languages for post-secondary students in British Columbia. UBC students can reach out as often as needed, anytime, from anywhere in the world.
  • 9-8-8: Suicide Crisis Helpline
    A safe space to talk, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Call or text 9-8-8.