Handing Out Free Crack Pipes Could be a Good Thing
By Carolina Quijano
“Crack is whack,” we learned from the late Whitney Houston, during that infamous 2002 Diane Sawyer interview. Houston was right. It is whack. The effects of crack use aren’t pretty: erratic behavior, tooth loss, drastic weight loss. And the effects go deep, occasionally resulting in users contracting long-term, deadly diseases.
In an attempt to curb the indirect effects of crack use, Urban Survivors Union is conducting a new experiment – handing out free crack pipes in San Francisco
Aside from the drug’s direct effects on the body, crack finds victims through indirect causes. Some addicts create “pipes” out of anything and everything they can, like light bulbs and glass bottles. Carelessness, coupled with the use of unorthodox objects, results in cuts in and around the mouth, which, when using shared paraphernalia, can transmit illnesses and diseases at an alarming rate. In an attempt to curb the indirect effects of crack use, a drug users' rights and public health advocacy group Urban Survivors Union, led by Isaac Jackson, is conducting a new experiment – handing out free crack pipes in San Francisco.
This program won’t end crack use, but it could help prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis
Similar to the needle exchange already implemented in the city, the clean crack pipe initiative would offer a “safe” way for users to smoke. Now I know saying “safe drug use” sounds like an oxymoron, but hear me out. It may seem counterintuitive to hand out drug paraphernalia, for fear that use would increase, but according to the CDC’s study of the needle exchange program, it doesn’t. Correlate this debate to the one on sex-ed and condom access – many feared that sex education or providing outlets for obtaining condoms would increase sexual activity; it hasn’t. Each program offers a safe alternative method to activities that would occur no matter if the initiatives existed or not. And, true, this program won’t end crack use, but it could help prevent the spread diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
In fact, the HIV Planning Prevention Council (HPPC) first proposed a clean crack pipe program to the Department of Public Health back in January, according to the SF Examiner, but was met with incredible opposition from government officials, including Mayor Ed Lee.
The Urban Survivors Union's program has been ongoing for the last two months, handing out about 200 kits (that cost less than a $1 each; the program is funded by an anonymous donor). Jackson, a Tenderloin resident and drug user, plans to continue handing out kits despite opposition from the city.
If we can connect with users, they are more likely to be engaged and take care of their health
I know that this initiative wouldn’t be the end-all solution to the crack epidemic, but it could be a start in the right direction. The idea here isn’t so much about providing clean crack pipes as it is about reaching out to an under-represented community. According to statements made to KPIX by Laura Thomas, a member of the HPCC as well as Deputy State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, all this is a learning process. If we can connect with users, they are more likely to “be engaged and take care of their health,” which includes taking medications and yes, even practicing safer drug use.
Unorthodox ideas are almost always met with fear and opposition; even the needle exchange program, when first introduced, wasn’t everyone’s idea of a solution. Only until persistent advocates pushed the initiative forward did opponents concede.
Just a little food for thought.