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Vancouver To Hand Out Clean, Unused Crack Pipes

Among the impoverished drug addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, crack cocaine users face an extra hurdle to feed their addiction.

Heroin users can pick up clean needles from needle-exchange programs or the city’s controversial safe-injection site, which have at least partly curbed risky needle sharing. But crack pipes are more difficult to come by.

Some crack smokers can afford to buy small glass or Pyrex stems to use as pipes. Others fashion makeshift pipes from bottles, cans or even hollow car antennas. And in many cases, they just simply share, potentially putting themselves at risk of contracting disease.

That’s about to change, as the local health authority prepares to launch a pilot project later this year to distribute clean, unused crack pipes to drug users.

It’s part of the city’s harm-reduction strategy that seeks to reduce the transmission of disease while ensuring health-care and social workers are able to interact with hard-to-reach drug addicts. Currently, the city distributes clean mouth pieces for crack pipes, but not the pipes themselves.

“We want to do it in a way that we can evaluate this, because there’s a couple of questions I hope we can answer by doing this,” says Dr. Patricia Daly, the medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

“And not just about demand and numbers, but can we use this as an engagement strategy like we do with our other harm-reduction initiatives. If you can deliver them (harm-reduction programs) in a way where you can get people into other services, that’s very beneficial.”

Unlike needle-exchange programs for injection drugs, programs to ensure users who smoke crack are using the drug safely are uneven across the country and, in some cases, non-existent. That’s despite a growing body of evidence that smoking crack cocaine increases the risk of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

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