Main navigation english

Canadian Public Health Association


Normalizing Conversations: Engaging public health, public safety, and communities to build capacity for a public health approach to substance use



CPHA has been funded by Health Canada through the Substance Use and Addictions Program to undertake a project to build the knowledge and capacity of decision-makers, health and social service providers, public safety and communities to implement a public health approach to substance use.

The primary objective of this project is to build the knowledge and capacity of communities to implement a public health approach to substance use. This is being accomplished through collaboration with individuals with lived and living experience of substance use, various professionals, and community organizations across Canada.

As part of this project, CPHA has developed a national, bilingual online substance use resource centre - the Canadian Substance Use Resource and Knowledge Exchange Centre (SURE). SURE provides a curated series of tools and resources to support you in implementing a public health approach to substance use in your community. 

This site aims to facilitate learning for practitioners, program planners, policy makers, peer workers, and other professionals. You can sign up for a free account on the SURE website to stay updated on new resources added to the site, bookmark those most relevant to you, and save specific search criteria for the next time you visit.

There are a variety of topics on SURE including harm reduction, resources by people with living experience of substance use, prevention and health promotion, justice and public safety, and so much more. You can use the ‘Find a Resource’ tool on SURE to browse by topic, resource type, or source.

To stay up to date on the latest resources added to SURE and new learning opportunities, sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter.

SURE Newsletter

Project Partners

CAPSA (Community Addictions Peer Support Association): CAPSA is a national leader on the topic of stigma, its impacts on individuals who use substances or have a substance use disorder, and on identifying and correcting instances of systemic stigma embedded in organizations. Employing subject matter experts with living experience, CAPSA works with organizations to provide education around substance use, stigma related to substance use disorder and the use of person-first language to reduce stigma and discrimination.

  • Role in the project
    In 2022, CPHA and CAPSA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to formalize the collaborative work between the two organizations. Members of the CAPSA and CPHA substance use project teams are committed to meeting bi-weekly throughout the course of the Normalizing Conversations project to develop shared initiatives and collaborate on resource development. This partnership is essential to the project’s goal of implementing a public health approach to substance use that is informed by the expertise of people with living experience.

Community Engagement Partners

Roles in the project

In 2021, CPHA engaged with community members in either a focus group or individual format to better understand the range and availability of substance use services in each community, explore what the communities would like to see to better support people who use drugs, and identify next steps to close the gaps between current and desired states for a public health approach to substance use. This included 26 people from the Dartmouth area, 23 people from Manitoba, and approximately 40 people from Thunder Bay. In the spring of 2022, CPHA hosted knowledge exchange forums in each community to bring together people who use drugs, allied health and social service providers, and first responders to brainstorm different approaches this project can take to address each community’s prioritized needs. These forums will help to inform the future work of the project.

About Mainline Needle Exchange (Nova Scotia):

Mainline, a program of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, is a health promotion organization dedicated to supporting people who use drugs through harm reduction programs. Their mission is to reduce acquisition and transmission of HIV, Hepatitis B & C, to increase awareness of health and social issues facing PWUD, and to help current and former PWUD through education, support and empowerment.

About Manitoba Harm Reduction Network (Manitoba):
The Manitoba Harm Reduction Network (MHRN) works toward equitable access, systemic change, and reducing the transmission of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI) through advocacy, policy work, education, research and relationships. They do this by operating several peer-led harm reduction networks across the province that provide services, education, advocacy and events that are relevant to their specific communities.

About Thunder Bay Drug Strategy (Ontario):
The Thunder Bay Drug Strategy’s (TBDS) mission is to create and implement a drug strategy for the City of Thunder Bay, district, and region, that reflects the needs and strengths of its citizens. The strategy will focus on humane approaches that address the causes and effects of harm associated with substance use. Their vision is to improve the health, safety and well-being of all citizens by working together to reduce substance related harms.

Project Tools and Resources  

Canadian Substance Use Resource and Knowledge Exchange Centre (SURE). SURE provides a curated series of tools and resources to support you in implementing a public health approach to substance use in your community.  
Challenging Structural Substance Use Stigma Workshop Package

Challenging Structural Substance Use Stigma Workshop Package - 2024

The Challenging Structural Stigma Workshop Package, developed in partnership with CAPSA, is designed to provide a comprehensive learning opportunity for health and social service providers who work in the substance use health field. It is designed to equip professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to: identify different forms of stigma; advocate for change; and meaningfully partner with people with lived or living experience of substance use.  

The workshop can be delivered online or in person, in one 6-hour session or two 3-hour sessions and was designed for groups of 10 to 25 participants. The package has all the materials and supporting documents needed to deliver the workshop in your organization or community. Find it on SURE!

What We Heard Report

What We Heard Report: Improving Healthcare Provider Interactions with Young People (who may or may not use drugs) – 2024

This report provides a summary and overview of the findings from a series of outreach engagements conducted by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s (CSSDP) Get Sensible project, in collaboration with the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA).

This report presents findings from a peer-led engagement initiative focused on examining the relationship between healthcare providers and young people, aged 18-30, who use drugs in Canada. Written by young people who use drugs (YPWUD), this report aims to shed light on the challenges faced by YPWUD when accessing healthcare services and to propose strategies to foster more meaningful and supportive connections between YPWUD and healthcare providers. Find it on SURE


Cannabasics: A Primer for Health and Social Service Providers– 2023

This primer serves as a valuable resource for healthcare and social service providers, delivering evidence-based insights into cannabis, its consumption methods, and fundamental principles of harm reduction. It has been crafted to offer a sufficiently detailed overview, enabling frontline professionals to engage in meaningful conversations with clients who use cannabis, and if needed, offer them appropriate harm reduction guidance.

In partnership with the CPHA, the Cannabasics Information Package, initially published in 2018, has been updated by Dr. Daniel Bear, a cannabis researcher with nearly 20 years’ experience studying drug policy. Find it on SURE

Final Report: Survey of Public Health, Public Safety, Health and Social Service Professionals on a Public Health Approach to Substance Use – 2023 

As part of the Normalizing Conversations project, the project team conducted a survey of public health, public safety and health and social service providers to better understand key stakeholder beliefs and attitudes, knowledge levels, and access to information, resources and training about substance use.  Find it on SURE!

  • Read the research snapshot here
  • Download the report appendix here

A Public Health Approach to Substance Use Handbook – 2023 

This handbook was created by the Centre of Excellence for Women's Health and the Canadian Public Health Association to describe and illustrate several key principles of a public health approach to substance use. The main objectives of this handbook are to increase readers' familiarity with the underlying principles of such an approach, share relevant information, definitions, and frameworks to support learning, and provide practical examples and additional resources.
Find it on SURE!  

Organizational Assessment Tool for Substance Use and Stigma – 2023  

This tool was developed in partnership with CAPSA to help organizations identify policies, along with environmental and cultural factors that contribute to substance use stigma and discrimination. It can assist organizations in developing strategies for reducing stigma to create safer, more supportive environments and build policies and practices that are supportive and inclusive for staff, volunteers and individuals seeking care. Find it on SURE!

Key Informant Interview Report – November 2022  

Between March of 2020 and January of 2021, CPHA interviewed 17 key informants involved in substance use-related work across Canada. These individuals represented: people who use/d substances, harm reduction and community organization employees, health system professionals (both public health and acute care), public safety professionals, academics, and non-governmental organization (NGO) employees and volunteers.  

The summary of findings is organized as follows: 

  • What is happening currently to support people who use/d substances 
  • What the community would like to see to support people who use/d substances 
  • Needs and next steps to close the gaps between the current and desired states for a public health approach to substance  

Focus Group Report with Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC) & CAPSA – August 2021  

In July and August of 2021, CAPSA, CPHA, and Somerset West Community Health Centre facilitated several focus groups with people who access substance use care to gain their perspectives on how their health needs and goals are addressed. We want to thank each person with lived or living experience from across the country who shared their experiences and knowledge with us through these focus groups. We recognize and value the expertise that each of these individuals hold and appreciate the range of perspectives they have contributed. 

Online learning 

You can create an account on CPHA’s learning site to access free online courses.
Courses currently available from the Normalizing Conversations project are:

  • Cannabasics: An Introductory Online Learning Series
    In this introductory learning series, you will explore basics of the cannabis plant and products, different methods of consumption, and different reasons for consumption from a public health approach. A compilation of links to cannabis-focused harm reduction resources is also available at the end of the learning series. Completing the course in full will take approximately 1 to 2 hours.


Join us for our webinar series as we discuss current and emerging topics in substance use. This series is primarily intended for professionals working to protect and promote the health, wellness, and safety of people who use substances.

‘Beyond Stigma’ In April 2022, CPHA and SURE presented a panel discussion centered around the Subject Matter Health Research Lab’s 2022 animated video ‘Beyond Stigma’, and featured a conversation with some of the videos creators on the realities and impacts of opioid related stigma, and ways that we can move beyond it.

Catch up on previous SURE webinars


Back to projects