Free crack pipes now distributed in Vancouver as part of health strategy
Crack addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have started receiving free crack pipes as part of a Vancouver Coastal Health Authority harm reduction strategy aimed at curbing the spread of disease.
Part of a $60,000 trial project first announced in August, the pipes are just one piece of drug paraphernalia found inside kits that have been distributed to users in the DTES since the beginning of the month.
The glass pipes are heat-resistant and shatterproof, which experts say should reduce injury to the users’ lips and mouth – wounds that can make them more susceptible to diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Also included are mouthpieces, filters, alcohol swabs, screens and push sticks.
While harm reduction tools such as these have been made available to addicts in the past, this marks the first time that they have been combined in a single kit, explained Trudi Beutel, a spokesperson for VCHA.
In total, 60,000 kits are expected to be distributed through five different DTES harm reduction centres over the duration of the eight-month trial period.
“What this boils down to is it’s about disease prevention,” said Beutel. “It’s about preventing more communicable diseases which land these people in hospital on a frequent basis and clogs up emergency rooms.”
Beutel said the project, which comes at a time when crack is enjoying a surge in popularity, will also allow VCHA to determine if the distribution of the kits is an effective way to engage users and steer them toward detox services.
It will also help them quantify the number of crack smokers in Vancouver and provide insight into crack addiction, she added.
In this vein, the five distribution centres – the Washington Needle Depot, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the Portland Hotel Society, the Lookout Shelter and the Drug and Alcohol Meeting Support for Women – have agreed to report back data collected throughout the project.
Hugh Lampkin, the president of VANDU, estimated that his organization, which puts the kits together before distributing them to the four other centres, is handing out an average of 70-90 kits a day.
He said the ratio of users has been roughly 65 per cent male and 35 per cent female, with their ages running anywhere from 20 to 65 years old. At present, he said VANDU has been following a one pipe per day policy.
“I think what this is doing right now is starting a dialogue about crack smoking,” he said of the project, which has been criticized. “And asking what is the best way to combat this drug problem?”
The BC-based director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada offered a far less optimistic opinion.
“Programs like this ignore the problems of addiction,” said David Brener. “All this does is aid and abet. What we should do is put that same amount of money into treatment and prevention. Because treatment and prevention work.”