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Individual Approaches (Harm Reduction Toolkit Section 2 of 4)

Interventions at this level take into consideration personal factors that may put some individuals at higher risk for problematic substance use and focuses on enhancing an individual's ability to prevent or address problematic substance use. We have broadened this to include providing information and resources to the student population on harm reduction and resources to promote early intervention, health and safety.


Strategic Area 1: Health Promotion and Education for Students

Intro to Strategic Area 1

The AC Umbrella Project has integrated knowledge and raised awareness of harm reduction, as well as promoted services for students across the three Algonquin College campuses (Ottawa, Perth, and Pembroke). Various forms of student engagement and outreach, especially during Orientation weeks, have proven to be successful. Some of the materials created include the following:

Integration into Residence Orientation was a successful outreach method, creating a visible harm reduction presence at the College. It included strategies such as the following:

  • materials and resources in the Residence “swag bag”
  • student-led booths
  • Recovery Day Ottawa promotion and booths on campus

Examples of Health Promotion and Education

Marketing MaterialOur marketing and educational material took many shapes and forms throughout the campus to maximize the Umbrella Project brand awareness and increase harm reduction knowledge actively and passively.

Examples included:

  • An overview of The Umbrella Project resources in the Student Services Brochure -opens in a new window and AC Student Handbook (page 148) -opens in a new window
  • An Umbrella Project sideshow -opens in a new window that explain what it is, Harm Reduction 101, E-chug and E-toke access information and how to contact the Harm Reduction Consultant. These slides were played regularly on the campus TVs in health services and counselling services.
  • Buttons with the Umbrella Project logo and website
  • The Here to Help Safer Use pamphlet series -opens in a new window which they generously personalized to include our campus and local supports. This had a visible impact on students, staff and faculty. The pamphlets were offered at almost every event and they created a significant amount of open discussions. These pamphlets and the discussions that arose from them were a clear demonstration that the college was actively supporting harm reduction.
  • Other harm reduction pamphlets from other agencies such as Ottawa Public Health -opens in a new window and the AIDS Committee of Ottawa -opens in a new window.
  • Lip balms with four different harm reduction messages , which were created and distributed in swag bags, orientation welcome bags, information booths etc. The harm reduction messages included:

    Each one of the messages linked to a specific section in the website, where students could find out more information about that specific harm reduction technique. Lip balm is also harm reduction tool – it is often used for the prevention of chapped lips that can occur when smoking substances, reducing the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmissions. Having four different messages meant that some students would want to take more than one, which is always good for promotional purposes. The choice also came out of a desire to be original and have something different other than just buttons on hand for students. Students would be more likely to use and hang on to lip balm.

  • I Heart Harm Reduction T-shirt“I heart Harm Reduction” t-shirts with the definition of Harm Reduction on the back and the Umbrella Project logo on the front. These were worn by the Umbrella Project team, which included placement students, when at events. Resident advisors and Residence Life Coordinators wore them regularly throughout the year. The t-shirts were also used as giveaways.

RainyDaze Print ScreenThe AC Umbrella Project had the goal to develop an interactive web resource, including digital tools aimed at awareness and self-assessment for students. A partnership was developed with the Algonquin College Applied Research and Innovation (ARI) department. A part-time professor worked with two paid ARI students to oversee develop the RainyDaze game.

RainyDaze - opens in a new window is a harm reduction game intended to inform the user about harm reduction and harm reduction techniques. The game features a series of mini games built around specific harm reduction concepts. The game is targeted directly to the college student demographic and addresses specific situational awareness and provides the user non-judgmental feedback and positive reinforcement of established harm reduction approaches.

Research has suggested that the use of online, interactive interventions for harm reduction can be beneficial, especially among younger participants:

“Some studies have found that computer-based programs can work, especially compared to no intervention at all. For example, one study found that youth (average age 11.6 years old) who got a computer-based intervention (both with and without parent involvement) had less alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use at a three-year follow up period, compared to youth who did not receive any intervention at all”
(Schinke, Schwinn, Di Noia, & Cole, 2004).

RainyDaze won the “Best Use of Multimedia” award from the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education in 2017

  • One-to-three-hour-long presentations were created and delivered in-class in courses like Police Foundations, Social Service Worker, Child and Youth Care Counsellor, Massage Therapy, Nursing, Community Studies, Health Promotion and Sociology.
  • Topics included an introduction of the AC Umbrella Project, understanding substance use from a biopsychosocial perspective, what harm reduction is and how to create a harm reduction plan, how addictions impact families and how to use the online self-assessment tools e-CHUG and e-TOKE.
  • Classroom presentations were advertised on the website in the “Staff Zone - opens in a new window”, as well as through word of mouth. Many professors simply emailed us wondering if we could come in for a guest lecture.
  • Evaluations were completed, pre and post presentation. The overall satisfaction rate was very high and the majority of students benefited from the presentation and had significant new learning. The Marketing Research and Business Intelligence students analyzed these evaluations. View the Evaluation Results for Umbrella Project Classroom Presentations (2016) - opens in a new window
  • The AC Umbrella Project launched E-CHUG and E-TOKE - opens in a new window, electronic self-assessments that were added to the Counselling Services, Health Services, Mamidosewin, and AC Umbrella Project websites.
  • The eCHECKUP TO GO (e-CHUG) programs are personalized, evidence-based online behavior interventions developed by counselors and psychologists at San Diego State University. They are currently used in over 600 universities and institutions in four countries (Counselling & Psychological Services San Diego State University).
  • Electronic THC Online Knowledge Experience (e-TOKE) and the Electronic e-CHECKUP TO GO (e-CHUG) - opens in a new window are interactive online marijuana and alcohol specific questionnaires and feedback tools for Algonquin College students, which provide insight into marijuana use and alcohol use by using personalized information about students’ behaviours and risk factors. The questionnaires take about 10-15 minutes and are self-guided, making them quick, anonymous, and flexible.
  • After students have entered all their information, the e-TOKE and e-CHUG questionnaires generate a personal profile that identifies the students’ marijuana or alcohol use patterns and compares it to local and national college and university norms. The profile reflects:
    • Quantity and Frequency of Use
    • Amount Consumed
    • Normative Comparisons - opens in a new window
    • Physical Health Information
    • Amount and Percent of Income Spent
    • Negative Consequences Feedback
    • Explanation, Advice, and Local Referral Information

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Use existing resources. Start by using resources (pamphlets, LCD systems etc.) already available on your campus.
  • Piggyback on existing events. Participate in events that are happening on campus.
  • Delegate. In preparation for week-long awareness campaigns, delegate tasks and responsibilities to several different departments involved in the event. Our Health Promotion and Marketing teams were essential in helping to engage the student body to participate.
  • Use Peer-to-Peer education. It reigns as one of the most effective ways to engage other students and to share information. Placement students and students involved in community health projects were an extraordinary resource for creating and implementing awareness campaigns.
  • Map out awareness days. Map out the different awareness weeks - opens in a new window and PLAN WELL IN ADVANCE!
  • You do not have to be the one with all the answers. Get to know your local addiction and mental health resources and invite them to events.
  • Think about promotion material. ‘SWAG’ that will provide sustainable messaging long after the chaos of orientation week is over.
  • Use technology to your advantage. Websites and online tools are essential.
  • Present in the class to increase your reach. Classroom presentations not only help educate the students but go a long way towards informing and engaging faculty.
  • Have resources and referrals available. Providing awareness is great, but if there are no supports in place to assist students once they are “aware”, it can be detrimental.

Strategic Area 2: Individual Student Support

Intro to Strategic Area 2

Algonquin College recognizes that, like at all post-secondary institutions across Canada, students at the College fall into several different categories of behavior:

  • a population of students who don’t use alcohol and other drugs
  • a population of students who do engage in the use alcohol and other drugs
  • a smaller population who will have a problematic relationship with alcohol and/or other drugs

It was important that the Umbrella Project provide not only awareness of harm reduction to the general student population but also on-campus support for individual students are struggling.

Examples of Individual Student Support

The AC Umbrella Project provided a Harm Reduction Consultant (HRC), from Rideauwood Addictions and Family Services -opens in a new window, onsite at the Ottawa campus three days a week as well on an as-needed basis at the Perth campus.

At the Waterfront Campus in Pembroke, 90 minutes outside of Ottawa, the HRC worked with the local community addiction agency, Pathways Alcohol and Drug Treatment Services -opens in a new window, and the Manager of Community and Student Affairs at Algonquin College to create similar services for students attending the Waterfront campus.

Harm reduction consultations provide the following:

  • Assessments of student’s use, motivation, and next steps.
  • Expert student education and support on topics including substance use, addiction, and harm reduction.
  • Best fit treatment recommendations, including referrals to community agencies.
  • Capacity-building opportunities among staff with direct student contact.

Access to the harm reduction consultations takes many different forms:

  • Students can self-refer by requesting a harm reduction consultation through the central booking desk for Student Support Services, Residence Life Coordinators, and, more recently, direct referrals through Health Services.
  • Any staff or faculty member is able to inform and refer a student to make a harm reduction consultation appointment. Counselling staff (both at Centre for Accessible Learning and at Counselling Services) have regularly been able to introduce harm reduction consultations to students with whom they were connected.
  • Residence Life Coordinators and Residence Community Advisors incorporated the harm reduction consultations as part of educational sanctions for students living in Residence who were involved in incidents involving alcohol or other drugs.
  • All staff and faculty at the three Algonquin College campuses can also access the HRC should they have concerns that a student is being negatively affected by substance use. The HRC is available to discuss the situation and guide next steps
  • SMART stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. SMART Recovery -opens in a new window is a self-help program that offers a friendly, non-judgmental community where participants can explore new ways of coping with the thinking and the hassles that can lead to addictive behaviours. Addictive behaviours can involve substances or activities, such as alcohol and other drug use, gambling, shopping, self-harm, disordered eating etc. SMART supports individuals who have chosen to abstain, or are considering abstinence from any type of addictive behaviours, by teaching how to change self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions and work towards long-term satisfaction and quality of life.
  • SMART Recovery was chosen because of its evidence-based techniques that include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing. It provides practical and skill based tools.
  • Peer-led group SMART Recovery support meetings -opens in a new window were held on campus.
  • SMART Facilitators are required to complete online training. Successful completion is recognized with a certificate. Discounts can be obtained for students.

The AC Umbrella Project established a navigational role for the Harm Reduction Consultant to make effective referrals among the College and community services. The overall harm reduction strategy was presented to the Addictions and Mental Health Network of Champlain region and formally recognize the roles and functions of Harm Reduction Consultant.

Internal and external referrals were made through the harm reduction consultations:

To increase capacity building across campus, a SharePoint account was created to include resources on topics such as:

  • Harm reduction research and strategies
  • Best practices addressing substance use in post-secondary institutes
  • Best practices from an aboriginal perspective
  • SMART Recovery -opens in a new window information
  • Worksheets and tools for students
  • Drug information

This resource was provided to the staff and faculty in Student Support Services, Health Services, Health Promotions, Security, International Education Centre, members of the General Advisory Committee, Managers and Chairs of Retention and Student Wellness, Student Success Specialists, and Residence staff.

  • The AC Umbrella Project participated in the Make the CUT -opens in a new window (College and University Transition) semi-annual events. This is a one-day transition program for prospective students with a learning disability or ADHD.
  • The goal of this event is to create a more comfortable environment for students who will be entering a post-secondary institution in the next year. At this event, the Umbrella Project had an outreach booth and gave out promotional and educational materials to prospective students.

Members of the AC Umbrella Project presented at many team and staff meetings for a variety of departments throughout the school year to highlight the services provided by the Umbrella Project and to allow staff and faculty to ask questions directly. It also led to discussions on how best to support students who might be struggling with substance use.

Outreach to direct entry students, who were transitioning from secondary to post-secondary, was conducted by connecting with Rideauwood’s -opens in a new window existing school-based counselling for substance abuse in high schools in Ottawa.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Have resources and referrals available. Providing awareness is great, but if there are no supports in place to assist students once they are “aware”, it can be detrimental.
  • Harm reduction consultations have many benefits. They provide students with support but they also provide Counsellors and Residence Life Coordinators with opportunities for knowledge exchange and capacity building.