Thursday, August 26, 2004

Winnipeg Handing Out Free Crack Kits

Thu, August 26, 2004
Tax-paid crack kit
Aim is to curb spread of disease by addicts
By KATIE CHALMERS, STAFF REPORTER

Drug users looking for a better quality crack pipe might want to try the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The WRHA is handing out kits to addicts with sores and burns on their lips in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
It's hoped the kits will "reduce the physical harms that crack cocaine users suffer," said medical officer of health Dr. Margaret Fast.
The kits come complete with a glass tube pipe, matches, a pipe cleaner, screens, alcohol swabs, lip balm, gum and condoms.
Fast believes providing the kits will help develop a trust between addicts and workers with the outreach program Street Connections, who have distributed up to 100 of the packages so far. The workers would then have a chance to convince crack cocaine addicts to seek treatment.
"This is sometimes our only opportunity to actually engage in discussion with users," Fast said. "Otherwise they might never come to us. We might never come to them."
PROVED SUCCESSFUL
Winnipeg is basing its crack pipe program on a similar one in Toronto which, Fast said, has proved successful. The WRHA decided to try it after appeals from crack addicts to outreach workers.
The glass tube pipes are safer to use than the homemade pipes addicts often use and share.
The program neither encourages nor discourages crack use but is a logical step in trying to limit the spread of disease among addicts, Fast said.
Core-area activist Harry Lehotsky disagrees.
"Maybe next they'll hand out bongs or rolling papers. Anything to help people," Lehotsky said. "And all this with government funding ... How far do we go to enable people's self-destruction?"
The kits cost the government $1.50-$2 each.
The money would be better spent on creating more drug treatment programs since some addicts end up on waiting lists, Lehotsky said.
"The addict's will to change is not a deep resolve. It's a moment of regret that you have to capitalize on," he said.
Conservative Leader Stuart Murray questioned the timing of the launch.
"It's ironic and somewhat unfortunate that the NDP under Doer have cut funding to the Addictions Foundation, forcing them to lay off 10 people and close 14 beds," said Murray.
"Clearly somebody is not thinking straight."
Outreach workers already provide condoms and intravenous needles to protect drug users and prostitutes from HIV.
Crack users who work in the sex trade could spread disease to the general population, the WRHA says.
Up to 100 kits have been handed out from a Street Connections van since Aug. 16, when the program started.
The WRHA has prepared 200 kits. Results of an impending survey into the success of the program will help the WRHA to decide whether to continue it.
The move was not a political decision, said a spokesman for Minister of Healthy Living Jim Rondeau.
"The WRHA takes advice on programs like this from public health experts, and those types of decisions are not political decisions," the spokesman said.
Crack has proved to be the drug of choice in Winnipeg. It has fueled more aggressive crimes such as muggings and gangs fighting for control of the industry, Lehotsky said.
"You see a lot more desperation type of things, snatch and grab or mug and run," he said.
"You don't need a whole lot of money but you need it really fast. When they get twitchy, they're willing to do pretty much anything."