In an effort to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and gather public health data related to Hepatitis C and HIV, the city of Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada will distribute $50,000 to $60,000 worth of crack pipes to local drug users. Crack cocaine is one of the more commonly used substances for drug addicts in both Vancouver and Victoria. It has been estimated there are 15,000 drug users in a downtown section of Vancouver called Eastside. About 60 to 80 percent of drug users in the whole city are estimated to have Hepatitis C.
Because drugs users share needles for injecting drugs and pipes for smoking, they have higher rates of infectious diseases. If the city is providing clean drug paraphernalia, they can reduce the transmission of potentially fatal diseases. The strategy is called harm reduction, and it includes safe drug consumption facilities, but these are rare. In such facilities medical staff are present when drug users inject drugs to make sure they are not transmitting diseases at the same time. Clearly this type of facility is controversial with some people, “Despite being the subject of 30 peer-reviewed studies by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, which showed a significant reduction in public injections and in HIV and hepatitis C infections, as well as an increase in the number of users seeking treatment, Insite is in danger of being shut down by the Canadian federal government, which cites moral and ethical issues with safe injection.” (Source: Ohsutp.ca)
Reducing the transmission of diseases saves lives, and decreases the number of potential transmissions, as each infected individual can infect many others. It is somewhat common for drug addicts to turn to prostitution in order to make money to support their drug habit. If they are infected, they easily could be spreading diseases to customers. The cost of treating people with Hepatitis C, which destroys the liver, and can cause death, and HIV which destroys the immune system also resulting in death, can be enormous. So though on the surface it seems like helping drug addicts do something that is only destructive, it actually reduces the risk of contracting these diseases, and prevents them from spreading into the community even more.
Consider the case of an individual who is curious but unaware, who tries crack or heroin several times, then quits, but contracts HIV from a contaminated needle. If the needle was clean, the person wouldn’t have contracted a potentially life-threatening disease requiring an expensive regimen of medication.
One reason people turn to regular drug use is depression and contracting a serious disease would only add to it, further discouraging the purpose from quitting drug use.
It isn’t just crack pipes that will be distributed, the pipes are in a small kit also containing a mouthpiece and condoms. It is believed Hepatitis C and HIV can be transmitted from the mouthpieces of dirty crack pipes.
Image Credit: Matthew Field / Wikimedia Commons