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Harm Reduction

To Reduce the Spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, Vancouver Will Supply Free Crack Pipes to Drug Users

Crack users in Vancouver will soon have access to new free crack pipes, courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health which will hand out the crack pipes to those that want them in Vancouver’s notoriously drug plagued Lower Eastside neighborhood.

The pilot project aims to reduce the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV, both of which can be transmitted via shared crack pipes (especially if either user has cracked or bleeding lips) and other contagious respiratory infections.

A recent study from The University of Victoria found that 2 in 3 crack users in Vancouver shared pipes and that between 60% and 80% of drug users in Vancouver either already have Hepatitis C or are at risk of transmitting the disease.

As a secondary benefit, harm reduction strategies like passing out free clean pipes or needles, put drug users in direct contact with health workers or a regular basis. Building relationships between health workers and drug users in other harm reduction programs has been shown to facilitate access to treatment programs among a population that does not often head to the doctor’s office for check-ups and increase demand for such services.

Harm reduction advocates in the city would eventually like to see the Insite Safe Injection Clinic (which provides a nurse supervised space for heroin users to inject drugs) provide a similar nurse-supervised safe inhalation service for crack cocaine users. They note that the clinic already has ventilation sealed rooms but acknowledge that Insite isn’t likely to expand its services until it wins a Supreme Court battle with the federal government which has been trying to shut the program down for violating national drug laws.

Commenting on the benefits of crack cocaine harm reduction policies, Walter Cavalieri of the Canadian Harm Reduction Network summed things up by saying, "Will these services stop them from using drugs? For some people it will, but some won't. Some will continue to use drugs but use them safely, some will cut back, and some will die, but their lives and health will be greatly improved."

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