When you hear that your government is helping addicts shoot up or smoke crack, it's normal to wonder: how can this possibly be good? Until recently, Alberta Health Services did similar work, distributing free, clean crack pipes to Calgary addicts through the Safeworks Harm Reduction Program. But when local media publicized the existence of the pipe arrangement last month, things went sideways.
Louise Gallagher (Director, Public Relations, Volunteer Services, with the Calgary Drop In, Rehab Centre)
21 August 2011
In 2008, Safeworks, an outreach program of Alberta Health Services, began a harm reduction program aimed at mitigating the effects of sharing crack pipes with other addicts. Through the program, users had the opportunity to obtain a clean pipe. It helped cut down on transmittable diseases and it gave outreach workers an opportunity to build relationships and explore safer options with this at-risk population of crack users. It's disheartening that AHS decided last week to let this program go up in smoke because it became controversial.
A decision to stop a clean crack-pipe distribution program has disappointed those working to rehabilitate street addicts. Since 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack-pipe kits as part of the Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases. The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool and were handed out in an AHS van. More than 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June 2011.
Vancouver health officials will distribute new crack pipes to non-injection drug users this fall as part of a pilot project aimed at engaging crack cocaine smokers and reducing the transmission of disease such as hepatitis C, HIV and even respiratory illnesses. The program, part of Vancouver's harm reduction strategy, is expected to start in October and run for six months to a year. The intent is to connect health care workers with crack cocaine smokers to evaluate how many of the drug users are in the city and what equipment they need to lower their risk of catching diseases. A kit with a clean, unused pipe, mouthpiece, filter and condoms will be handed out to the participants.
About two decades after the U.S. emerged from the worst of its own crack epidemic, Brazilian authorities are watching the cheap drug spread across this country of 190 million people. They have far fewer resources to deal with it, despite a booming economy that expanded 7.5 percent last year. Walter Maierovitch, a former drug czar, proposes programs that offer adults health services and a safe place to use drugs. "Insisting on programs that demand abstinence doesn't work," he said.
Insite’s operators have twice applied for a federal health exemption to allow crack cocaine smokers to use the room – the request was rejected in 2006, ignored in 2009. Proponents say the room would allow health officials to reach a fast-growing segment of drug users, a group prone to viruses because of dirty crack pipes. Critics say scientific evidence for the benefits of supervised inhalation rooms is scant.