Crack kits do not mean its ok to smoke crack

Kudos to the City of Victoria (and to Philippe Lucas, whom I know was relentless in pushing for this initiative) for voting in favor of a crack-kit distribution trial.

Victoria addicts to get free crack-pipe parts

Council voted in favour of the idea on Thursday.

It’s hoped the harm-reduction kits, which cost less than $2 each, will help curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

“If someone uses a crack pipe and there’s blood on their lips and they hand it to someone else who has a cut lip, then that’s an entry line into the bloodstream,” said Katrina Jensen with AIDS Vancouver Island.

The push sticks are meant to replace the syringe plungers many addicts use, thereby cutting down on the amount of discarded needles and potentially toxic melted plastic.

Bruce MacDonald, who lives on the street in Victoria, said he’s seen crack cocaine become almost mainstream in recent years.

“It’s a problem everywhere,” he said. “It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. Twenty years ago it wasn’t this bad.”

VIHA launched a similar pilot project in Nanaimo, also on Vancouver Island, in 2007, but the plan was suspended after community backlash.

Those living in Victoria aren’t convinced handing out crack kits is a good idea, either.

“It’s saying it’s all right to do it [crack],” said resident Christopher Hage.

“I guess we should be spending our money helping people with the drugs rather than providing them easier access to them,” said Dennis McPhail.

Sharing of crack pipes or, worse, the broken tubes of glass that often substitute for pipes, is known to increase the spread of disease. Poorly made “pipes” often burn the lips of smokers, leading to infection and more serious problems. Providing harm reduction approaches to crack smoking only makes sense and its nice to see municipalities looking at the big picture.

The last comments, from opponents, need addressing. Not because the points are logical or strong arguments. Quite the opposite. The two comments represent a mode of thinking about drug use and thus drug policy that is unfortunately very common. Its this type of thinking, amongst the lay public, that needs to be examined in order that we can all move past the preconceptions that are the foundation of the viewpoints.

Mr. Hage believes that crack kits mean that the City is saying its all right to do crack. Does putting filters on cigarettes mean its ok to smoke? If you drink lite beer is it ok to pound 12 every night? Does using reduced-fat mayo mean its ok to go through a jar a day? Does requiring seatbelts mean its ok to drive unsafely? The propositions are absurd. Providing people with safer ways to engage in activity does not equate to societal blessing of that activity.

Mr. McPhail wants to spend money helping people with drugs rather than providing easier access to the drugs. First, the crack kits will help people. Using a kit, for example, could keep someone from becoming HIV or Hep C positive. That helps. Second, providing someone with a pipe does not in any way provide them with easier access to the drug that goes into the pipe. And so people struggling with problematic crack use will still need to steal, or prostitute, or beg for enough money to buy the drugs. Rest assured, Mr. McPhail, having that safer pipe in your pocket doesn’t get you around the hell you may have to go through to get the drug. It may, however, just prevent the hell from getting markedly worse.