Vancouver to Hand Out Free Crack Pipes

By Kenneth Garger 08/01/11

Canadian city's harm reduction strategy extends to pilot scheme for crack users.

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Vancouver health officials have announced that free, clean crack pipes will be distributed to addicts in a pilot scheme later this year—the latest addition to their harm-reduction strategy. Currently the city hands out mouth pieces, but not the pipes themselves. Two thirds of Vancouver's users share pipes, which may consist of glass or Pyrex stems, or may be cobbled together from bottles, cans or car antennas. While cities throughout Canada offer needle-exchange programs for heroin addicts—Vancouver also has a safe-injection site—equivalent services for crack smokers are lacking, although pipes are available in Calgary and Winnipeg. There's growing evidence that crack-cocaine users are at high risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis, because of exposure to each other's blood and saliva. Some in Vancouver advocate the establishment of a safe-inhalation site, where users could take crack in the presence of health workers. Opponents say such programs promote addiction—and a similar scheme in Ottawa was axed in 2007 after complaints. But supporters believe free crack pipe programs will not only reduce disease, but increase beneficial interactions between users and health officials, leading to more users seeking treatment.

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Ken Garger is a reporter for the New York Post. You can follow him on Twitter.