Free crack pipe service discontinued in Calgary
A decision to stop a program distributing clean crack pipes has disappointed those working to rehabilitate street addicts.
Since 2008, Alberta Health Services had been giving out crack pipe kits as part of its Safeworks program, an effort to reduce transmittable diseases.
The kits contained a glass pipe, mouthpiece and cleaning tool, and were handed out in an AHS van. Over 14,500 crack pipes were given out as of June.
However, AHS has discontinued the Safeworks crack pipe program as of Tuesday, citing the “potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution.”
Tim Richter, Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO, said the program was an effective first step in engaging hardcore, street-involved crack cocaine addicts.
“We’re disappointed the program has been cancelled in the fashion it was,” Richter said. “Harm reduction and giving these crack pipes out was good, smart public health.
“It seems like a knee-jerk reaction on fairly simplistic moralistic ground.”
Some groups, including the Calgary Police Association, had recently expressed their concerns with the Safeworks program prior to its cancellation. CPA president John Dooks said it set a dangerous precedent.
“It’s implying you can use elicit drugs or unlawful drugs in a safe manner,” Dooks said. “The message should be there is no safe way to use drugs.”
Alberta Justice spokesman David Dear also defended the decision, saying Safeworks was illegal by law, and his organization had expressed concerns to Alberta Health Services earlier this year. Dear said there were legal problems outside the Criminal Code, such as distinguishing between Safeworks pipes and ones from an outside distributor and defining the point at which a used pipe becomes contraband.
Officials say each pipe cost 30 cents.
John Bodman, a 68-year-old former crack addict, stressed the need for “clean, fresh crack pipes,” and said he was disappointed to learn the service had been cancelled.
“I’m sure you’re going to see an increases in diseases,” Bodman said, adding the cost to treat addicts will likely in- crease as well.
Bodman, who now works as a mentor with the Safeworks program, said street users aren’t happy because “they have to go back to the old games.”
He said addicts use everything from aluminum cans to car parts as a means to smoke crack.
“The crack is bad enough, but you mix all those chemicals together and it’s a real disaster.”
In a statement e-mailed to the Herald, AHS said it will continue to focus on other mechanisms to reduce health risks experienced by marginalized populations.
“In Calgary, the Safeworks Program van will continue to offer health-care services — including referrals, immunizations, testing for communicable diseases and STIs, wound care and health education — to at-risk individuals.”