A new program in Vancouver gives away free crack pipes as part of a “harm reduction strategy” to decrease the number of Hepatitis B and C cases in an area of the city hit hard by drug use.
The $60,000 trial program, which began in August, gives crack users heat-resistant, shatter-proof glass pipes that make crack smoking “safer” by reducing injury to users' lips and mouth, which decreases drug users' susceptibility to contracting Hepatitis B and C when they share pipes with other users.
In addition to the glass pipes, users will be provided with kits, which include filters, mouthpieces, alcohol, swabs, screens, and a card that says, "Ready to Detox?" along with a phone number to a drug treatment center.
The program is similar to needle exchange programs, which provide heroin users with clean needles in order to decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"What this boils down to is it’s about disease prevention," Trudi Beutel told the National Post.
However, there is also a hope that drug users will try to defeat their addiction and live a healthier lifestyle.
"In the same way we didn’t think access to needles was going to resolve all the issues associated with injecting drugs, this is not solving all the issues associated with smoking drugs," said Aiyanas Ormond, a community organizer and volunteer coordinator at the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) , according to The Vancouver Sun.
She added: "But we hope that it’ll make people who are addicted to and smoking crack cocaine a little healthier and will also take some of the burden off of the health care system...For every pipe that we distribute there’s an interaction about what the least harmful way of doing your drugs is -- it’s not just doling out the supplies, it’s about having those interactions with those people."
Vancouver's crack pipe exchange program was inspired by a similar program in Ottawa, which began in 2008 and has since reduced the number of people sharing crack pipes from 64 percent to 49 percent, according to CBC News.
Lynne Leonard, a University of Ottawa researcher who released the study, said that although the program was successful in reducing pipe-sharing that leads to the spread of disease, half of crack smokers are still sharing, which means more education and awareness about drug and disease prevention is needed.
"This is why it's very important for us to take any new measure we can to prevent any new HIV or Hep C," she said.
The crack pipe program was organized by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.