Drug users to receive crack pipes as part of pilot project
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.
The program, part of Vancouver's harm reduction strategy, is expected to start in October and run for six months to a year, said Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.
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 such as hepatitis C, HIV and even respiratory illnesses.
A kit with a clean, unused pipe, mouthpiece, filter and condoms will be handed out to the participants, Gustafson said. It's not known at this time how many drug users will take part in the program, which is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
"There's been a shift to crack cocaine smoking and we want to make sure the services we provide are the services they need ... if we're providing syringes and what we need are pipes, we're not serving them," Gustafson said.
"We know there's a demand, and chances are what we're going to be able to supply won't last very long."
Health officials already provide mouthpieces for crack pipes but not the pipe itself. This means many drug users are sharing the glass pipes, which may be old or chipped, and are at risk of contracting a disease such as hepatitis C from cuts on their mouths, or respiratory illness or pneumonia from inhaling crumbling filters or the drug directly into their lungs.
"It's just understanding and knowing the health consequences of crack cocaine smoking," Gustafson said.
"Mouthpieces alone are not enough. Health consequences don't just come from the mouthpiece; they come from unsafe pipes."
The pilot project is expected to reach out to the rising number of crack cocaine smokers. Although specific numbers aren't known, it's estimated there are up to 15,000 users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Heroin users can get clean needles from needle-exchange programs or the city's supervisedinjection site, but new pipes for crack aren't as easily accessible.http://bit.ly/pncq3A