Crack Pipe Vending Machines Operating in Vancouver, CanadaS

In an effort to stop the spread of disease, crack pipe vending machines have been installed in parts of Vancouver, Canada.

According to an story on CTV, the vending machines are operated by the The Portland Hotel Society, a local non-profit. The machines dispense crack pipes for just $0.25 each.

"For us, this was about increasing access to safer inhalation supplies in the Downtown Eastside," Kailin See, director of the Drug Users Resource Centre, told CTV.

Vice has a rather good examination of the efforts to bring the machines to Vancouver and the group behind them:

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through sharing crack pipes. The intense heat and repeated usage that comes with crack addiction can quickly wear pipes down to jagged nubs. Users are always in need of fresh supplies. Like distributing clean needles, making crack pipes available is just good public health policy, as users don't have to resort to risky activities to come up with the cash to buy one on the street.

The crack pipe vending machine was the dream of Mark Townsend and Mariner Janes, of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit that provides services to persons with mental health and addiction issues. There are currently two machines and they've been in place for six months. Each holds 200 pipes and needs refilling a couple times each week.

The proponents of the vending machines say they hope the idea of giving out crack pipes becomes as widely accepted as giving clean needles to IV drug users. Community support for the effort seems to be growing as well:

Three years ago, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority began a pipe distribution pilot program. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users started even before that. Vancouver Police have come round, giving the nod to some harm reduction initiatives, even directing users to the safe injection site and other programs.

Aiyanas Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users told me the vending machines are "a good intervention. Access to a pipe can make the difference for people having a safe practice." Citing research from the Safer Crack Use, Outreach, Research and Education (SCORE) project, he noted that significant harm reduction comes from distributing pipes to users in the sex trade. They won't have to work potentially unsafe dates just to pay for the pipe itself.

At least one government official in Canada doesn't seem thrilled with the idea, however. Via the National Post:

"We disagree with promoters of this initiative," Steven Blaney, Canada's Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said in a statement Saturday, after weekend media reports about the vending machines. "Drug use damages the health of individuals and the safety of our communities," Mr. Blaney added. "While the NDP and Liberals would prefer that doctors hand out heroin and needles to those suffering from addiction, this Government supports treatment that ends drug use, including limiting access to drug paraphernalia by young people."

But supporters aren't backing down. "[Users] don't run the risk of then sharing pipes, or pipes that are chipped or broken," See said. "Everything from flu, colds, cold sores, HIV: If you cut your lip on a pipe that someone else has been using, there are risks there."

Image via Twitter.