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Environmental Approaches (Harm Reduction Toolkit Section 4 of 4)

Interventions on the broadest level involve developing policies and adapting regulations to support harm reduction as a norm. When policies and the environment reinforce and reflect harm reduction, a college/university is able to truly have an integrated model.


Strategic Area 5: Policy Recommendations

Intro to Strategic Area 5

Reviewing current, and potentially new, policies through a harm reduction lense helps create a cohesive, proactive framework that balances needs of the institution with the needs of the student body.

Policy Recommendation Examples

Using the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) - opens in a new window, the AC Umbrella Project completed an environmental scan to establish a baseline of potential prevalence of substance use challenges on Algonquin College campuses

The Umbrella Project reviewed the various alcohol policies while focusing on the recommendations from the following publications:

By conducting this review, the Umbrella Project was able to make the recommendations below.

Risk Criteria Assessment Tool Recommendation

  • As suggested by the literature and the best practices from the Acadia University Dr. Strang report - opens in a new window, campuses in Canada should have a risk criteria assessment tool in place in order to provide guidance to event organizers on how to reduce alcohol and other drug related harms.
  • This tool should be used for all events on campus where alcohol will be served, or when it is a potentially high risk or high capacity event. The event organizers are to work closely with college employees to reduce risk to safety and security.

Specific Alcohol Services Recommendations

  • Wherever non-students are welcome, implement a 1:2 or 1:1 student/guest policy.
  • Have other procedures for high risk periods (such as nights where it is known there will be heavy drinking), such as the following:
    • Service of all alcohol in plastic cups.
    • Mandatory coat and bag check.
  • Beverage Restrictions:
    • Limit the number of drinks that can be purchased by any one person at any one time (i.e. if you have a pitcher it must be shared with 3 patrons, or no more than two drinks per patron per order).
    • No sale of caffeinated energy drinks (to prevent the mixing of alcohol with these beverages) and/or pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
    • Limit the size of drink containers (glasses, pitchers, etc.) to reflect standard drink sizes.
    • Ban single shots of alcohol (i.e. no shooters).
    • Limit amount of spirits to 1 oz. in all drinks.
    • Eliminate “last calls.”
  • Develop a Buddy System, Bystander Intervention Program, or Designated Driver program for intoxicated patrons.
  • Develop and enforce a policy for off-campus events where alcohol may play a significant role and where the sale of tickets occurs on campus or under the auspices of a university-related organization. See Appendix C of the Queen’s University Alcohol Policy - opens in a new window for an example of such a policy.)
  • Mandatory in person training (‘Understanding Substance Use and Harm Reduction’ and ‘Motivational Interviewing’ training) from the AC Umbrella Project for all staff at the Residence, including Residence Advisors, Residence Life Coordinators, Managers, Front Desk staff, and all other staff.
  • Mandatory E-CHUG or E-TOKE assessments - opens in a new window for all incoming students – can be done online, potentially with prizes or fees attached.
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol each student can bring into Residence on any given day from 24 bottles of beer equivalent to 6 bottles of beer equivalent.
  • Change the current policy that allowed two unregistered guests up in until 2:30 a.m. to no more than one visitor granted access into the Residence, with visitors only able to be signed in until 1 a.m.
  • The Supervisor of Security Services and Risk Management was a member of the General Advisory Committee.
  • Security personnel participated in the two full days of on-campus training.
  • Security personnel also carried harm reduction consultation info cards to pass on to students if they had concerns about the student’s substance use.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Plan and involve others for the NCHA.Implementing the NCHA survey is a large undertaking and requires many key individuals on campus in order for it to be a success. Be sure to plan ahead and start early.
  • Use a range of promotional strategies for the NCHA, including prizes.A wide range of promotional strategies must be used in order to reach as many students as possible for the NCHA. Prizes should be expensive enough that students are motivated to take the survey, while at the same time seem attainable. Therefore many medium sized prizes are necessary as well.
  • Plan ahead if you want to promote in classes.Classroom presentations across campus would have proved successful for increasing participation in NCHA; however this requires planning with professors and coordinators at least a month prior.
  • Create a plan to disseminate the data.The vast amount of information gathered by the NCHA can be overwhelming, and there are benefits and disadvantages of the different levels of transparency.
  • Involve stakeholders when making recommendations.Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to conduct thorough stakeholder focus groups with the residence staff, students and security. This would have proved beneficial in order to receive more participation and feedback from residence employees. The recommendations for residence policy change were given quickly and without residence staff (managers, Residence Life Coordinators and Community Advisors) input. Structured discussions and brainstorming with all stakeholders would have provided a richer array of recommendations and increased comfort of implementation.
  • A multi-faceted approach is necessary for change.Changing policies does not create systemic change. Training and planning must take place as well. A socio-ecological (multi-faceted/layered) approach is necessary for real change to occur.
  • Get stats, stats, and more stats.Get data from everyone, for everything.

Strategic Area 6: Residence

Intro to Strategic Area 6

Residence is an excellent environment to implement harm reduction on many different levels.  In fact, we have had so much success, The Umbrella Project was awarded the 2017-2018 OACUHO Program/Service of the Year Award - opens in a new window!

Residence Examples

  • A Harm Reduction Consultation is a personalized non-judgmental and compassionate information session to help understand substance use, learn how to reduce the risks and map out possible next steps. It is for students who want harm reduction info/support for themselves or a friend/family member.
  • A designated time was set aside for students who lived in residence.
  • The sessions are often booked by the Residence Life Coordinators who had concerns about a student’s use. They could also be conducted as part of a sanction, or because a student had self-referred.
  • These Harm Reduction Consultations were completed with the Residence Life Coordinator present to assist in capacity building among Residence staff.

Multiple training days were designed specifically for the Residence Advisors and the Residence Life Coordinators and other Residence staff. All of the employees participate in “Understanding Substance Use and Harm Reduction” and “Motivational Interviewing” trainings adapted for Residence specific situations.

Having Residence placement students involved in the Umbrella Project proved very successful. The “near peers” of the students worked to create a safer space for students to discuss their substance use. The placement students were also very involved in creating and implementing the following AC Umbrella Project activities into residence life:

Umbrella Project events that occurred on campus also had Residence components. Higher use times were identified and Umbrella Project activities were increased at these times:

  • Orientation Week
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • December exam period/before winter break
  • Before Reading Week
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • End of year/exam time
  • In collaboration with the Residence Life Manager, the Residence Life Coordinators, and the Residence Community Advisors, a harm reduction approach was integrated into sanctions when students fail to comply with the Residence Community Living Standards.
  • The use of the online self-assessments, E-CHUG and E-TOKE - opens in a new window, was implemented for students to complete, with verification, when they had infractions related to alcohol and other substance use.
  • A meeting with the Harm Reduction Consultant was also provided and encouraged as an option to decrease sanctions for such incidents. The Harm Reduction Consultation provided the student with a psycho-educational information session and options to create a harm reduction plan, as well as recommendations and/or referrals to community supports. To decrease the harm reduction consultations wait times, a dedicated time slot was introduced. This allowed the Residence Life Coordinators to book students as soon as possible. This dedicated time was thoroughly utilized.
  • Prior to move-in day for Residence, the Residence Life team sent out a parent newsletter. Two pages of that newsletter discussed post-secondary students’ use of substances and how parents can talk approach the topic of substance use with their loved one. The newsletter also included on-campus and local off-campus resources.
  • A short survey was connected to the newsletter and asked them three questions.
    • How helpful was this newsletter?
    • Have you already spoken to your young adult about substance use?
    • How likely will you talk to your young adult about the contents of this newsletter?
    • The results suggest that a majority of parents found the information in the newsletter to be “very helpful,”.
  • View the parent newsletter - opens in a new window and the feedback - opens in a new window.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Create harm reduction consultations for residence.Focused residence on-site harm reduction consultations were success. Had we known that there would be this need and this acceptance, we would have started these consultations in the first year.
  • There is value in setting aside consultation time for residence.Setting aside a specific time for students living in residence was necessary for two reasons. One: Students living in Residence were less likely to access the service in Counselling Services. Two: Scheduling the Harm Reduction Consultant’s time proved more difficult once there was greater awareness of the service.
  • Regular presence in Residence was helpful.It improved communication between the Umbrella Project and the Residence staff, which resulted in more students seeking support and increased capacity building with the Residence staff.