If you can’t stop it, make it safer.
The Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit shelter for people with mental illnesses and drug addictions, has set up two crack pipe vending machines in Vancouver, Vice reported last week. A local news channel tweeted out this picture over the weekend.
While this may seem counterintuitive for an organization devoted to weaning addicts off crack, the shelter hopes that by selling cheap, clean pipes it can reduce the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV. Homemade pipes are typically made inexpertly out of glass tubes and susceptible to breaks and splinters, both of which can cause wounds. The vending-machine pipes are brand new, made of tougher Pyrex glass, and cost only 25 Canadian cents (US$0.23), compared to the up to C$10 they normally costs addicts.
The “harm reduction” rationale behind giving crack users free or cheap pipes is similar to that behind giving heroin users free needles—something that Canada does quite a lot of. Vancouver is a more progressive city than most: It not only provides free needles for heroin addicts, but operates professionally supervised injection sites—the only ones in the country.
At the federal level, health officials aren’t so convinced. “We disagree with promoters of this initiative,” Canada’s minister of public safety, Steven Blaney, said in a statement over the weekend. “…this government supports treatment that ends drug use, including limiting access to drug paraphernalia by young people.”
Nonetheless, the machines are open for business, and they’re being used. Each holds about 200 pipes a piece, and is refilled every five days. Here’s what they look like: