Vancouver crack pipe giveaway will include children

Vancouver Coastal Health project may begin next month

Theyre giving crack pipes to kids.

A vulgar statement, sure to sour the most liberal sensibilities. The very notion of arming children, innocence incarnate, with the instruments of hard drug addiction summons outrage from deep within the soul. Anyone engaged in such blasphemy surely occupies a rancid corner of the human experience, alongside Randall Hopley and pimps who prostitute children on downtown street corners.

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Youd think that. But think again. A new harm reduction project in the Downtown Eastside will see nurses and other healthcare officials distribute at least 60,000 crack pipes to neighbourhood users during an eight-month period. While final dates are pending, the project, run by Vancouver Coastal Health, may begin next month, end sometime next spring and cost up to $60,000. Its the first government-funded crack pipe giveaway in Vancouver. (The Portland Hotel Society has distributed crack pipes for more than two years but relies on private funding for its pipe program.)

Crack pipes are basically skinny glass tubes roughly four-inches long. According to theory, fresh pipes limit the spread of disease such as hepatitis C. Give an addict a new pipe, they say, and youll decrease the rate of infection. Whether you support this project or not, youre probably certain of one thing: When it comes to free crack pipes, children need not apply.

Youd think that. But think again. According to Dr. Reka Gustafson, a VCH medical health officer, government crack pipes are for everyone, age notwithstanding. This is a health regulation, said Gustafson, during a recent phone interview. Anybody whos competent to ask for a health service should receive it.

According to Gustafson, pipe distributors will talk with children and other users and help connect them with addiction services. But therell be no mandatory counselling or treatment attached to a free crack pipe. If a 12-year-old girl wants a pipe, without chitchat or medical advice, shell get it. And your tax dollars will pay for it. What part of Christy Clarks Families First agenda is this?

Of course, depriving a 12-year-old crack smoker, damaged by exploitation and neglect, from government crack pipes wont stop her from smoking crack. And while greater dangers exist on the street, pipe-sharing may make her sick. But rather than spend $60,000 on free crack pipes, why not fund prevention and recovery programs aimed at kids. Wouldnt that be money better spent?

Children who smoke crack in the Downtown Eastside are likely victims of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and predominantly aboriginal. They likely lack positive role models and search desperately for direction. Often, their only positive encounter with adults takes place at healthcare centres and drop-in clinics, which will soon hand out crack pipes. In a childs eyes, that gesture carries great weight. Despite oversight from Gustafson and the other lab coats at VCH and UBC, no clinical study can measure its impact. Enablement may extinguish a childs fragile hope, dooming her forever.

And therein lies the fundamental flaw of so-called harm reduction philosophy. It reduces a complex problem like addiction into simple logic, that if extended, moves quickly from the absurd to the surreal. Shes already smoking crack, so lets make sure she smokes it safely. To feed her growing habit, shes engaged in petty crime, which is dangerous for a child. So lets give her the crack and eliminate the middle man.

Never happen, you say? Think again. They already did it with adults and heroin (NAOMI study, 2005-2008) and theyll do it again with heroin (upcoming SALOME study). And with crack pipes, theyll never attach age limits. They cant. Doing so would threaten grand plan. If kids are too young for free crack pipes, what about free needles? If kids are incapable of consenting to government-sanctioned drug abuse, what about the mentally ill? What about first-time intravenous drug users who rely on Insite nurses for direction? What about this whole harm reduction thing?

No, that can of worms will remain sealed. And beginning next month, shell receive shiny new crack pipes like so much free candy from representatives of the state.

mhasiuk@vancourier.com

Twitter: @MarkHasiuk

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