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Safer use strategies are practical tools that can be tailored so that people who use substances can optimize a plan that works for them. With the guidance of community members with lived experience of substance use, we have developed evidence-based safer use strategies for alcohol, stimulants, and depressants. We suggest trying out one to two strategies to start, then adding and subtracting as you figure out your best fit.

The strategies in this article are specific to depressant use. Depressants are “downers” and include opioids, benzos, and barbiturates. They can be prescribed like Oxy, Vicodin, and Xanax, or street drugs like heroin.

Ways to Be Safer and Healthier Without Changing Use

Carry rescue drugs

Opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and oxy can lead to overdose. Carry naloxone (Narcan) with you and give it to your family and friends who are near you when you use. Naloxone is a drug that may be inhaled through your nose or injected to reverse an opioid overdose. Use the buddy system when you use opioids so your friend can administer naloxone. Check out to learn more. Find naloxone near you.

Take care of your veins

If you are shooting drugs, you can take care of your veins. Drink water to keep yourself hydrated, rotate your injection sites, and learn about techniques that could help you stay safer and healthier when you use.

Ways to Use More Safely

Shoot safer

Avoid overdose, blood-borne illness (HIV, hepatitis C, etc.), and bacterial infections. Pace yourself until you know the strength of your stash. Shooting into veins in your arms and hands is safer than hitting blind into your grown or into your neck. Rotate sites and shoot downstream if possible. Using new, clean needles and works can help prevent illness and infection.

Avoid mixing drugs

Using different drugs at the same time can have unexpected effects, put stress on. your heart, and lead to overdose. Try to stick to one drug at a time, especially when you are unsure of its strength or content.

Ways to Change How Much You Use

Less is more

You can avoid overdosing or experiencing drugs’ toxic effects. You can decide how you want to limit your use. You could choose to buy only a certain amount or set a spending limit. Leave the rest of your money at home or in a safe place. You might ask a trusted friend to remind you of your limit.

Choose to not use

Not using–even for a few hours or days–gives your body a rest and may help you to avoid your body or mind becoming dependent on depressants. If you are not yet dependent and don’t get strung out, you should not use for long periods of time and take days off from use every week to avoid getting hooked. Check in with your provider if you want to stop using altogether.


These are just a few of the safer use strategies for depressant use. We hope you are able to try them out for yourself, with your clients, or anyone else who’s interested in staying safer when they use.

Because we’re worthy of safety, health, and happiness!

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