There are four essential pillars (or components) to drug strategies operating in Ontario, Canada and across the world. They include:

  • Prevention
  • Harm Reduction
  • Recovery and Rehabilitation
  • Enforcement and Justice

A fifth pillar, integration, is a foundational element of the model and is operationalized through the work of a multi-sectoral steering committee that oversees the implementation of the 99 recommendations of the Drugs Strategy.


Prevention refers to interventions throughout the lifecycle that seek to prevent or delay the onset of substance use and that address root causes of underlying problems. Prevention is grounded in the notion that addressing substance use before problems begin is more favourable than waiting until problems are present.

Harm Reduction 

Harm Reduction refers to interventions, including programs and policies, that aim to reduce the potentially adverse health, social and economic consequences of problematic substance use, and can include (but does not require) abstinence from substances. Inherent in the harm reduction approach is a way of working with people that “meets people where they are at” in a client-centered, non-judgmental, pragmatic way, regardless of whether they are using substances or not.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Recovery and Rehabilitation refers to interventions that seek to improve the physical and emotional well-being of people who use or have used substances. Treatment is one part of recovery and rehabilitation. The goal of treatment is to improve quality of life and individual functioning and to optimize health, while addressing substance use.

Enforcement and Justice

Enforcement and Justice refers to interventions that seek to strengthen community safety by responding to crime and community disorder caused by substance use, including (but not limited to) police, courts, and corrections. Interventions address criminal behaviour associated with substance use, while coordinating with health and social service agencies to connect people who use substances with appropriate supports.

Integration (the fifth pillar) 

Integration is an essential part of the four pillar approach as a means to move beyond silos and sectors associated with each discipline towards a cohesive strategy where all community members can create change. No one pillar can independently address the issues associated with problematic substance use. Further, many of substance use-related issues cross over between pillars. Long-term solutions to problematic substance use involve collaborative action by all pillars.

The Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy Steering Committee and the Coordinator tie the strategy together at the intersection of services, programs, policies and work that crosses the four pillar committees.

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