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Crack use in Vancouver has declined since free crackpipe distribution began

Crack use in Greater Vancouver has declined since health authorities began distributing free crackpipes and mouthpieces to drug users, contrary to concerns that the harm reduction measure would encourage the deadly habit.

A 15-year study released this week by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS showed that while 40.7 per cent of hard drug users reported smoking crack cocaine daily in 2007, by 2011 that number had dropped to 26.9 per cent.

“This decline in crack cocaine smoking actually occurred during a period when the number of crackpipes that were distributed in this community dramatically increased,” said report co-author Dr. Thomas Kerr.

“This, again, is further evidence that when we respond with harm reduction programs — when we provide people who use drugs with supplies they need to use as safely as possible — we’re not actually encouraging use.”

In 2008, community organizations began distributing free crackpipes, while health authorities throughout B.C. began distributing free crackpipe mouthpieces: pieces of sterile surgical tubing that can be attached to the end of a crackpipe.

The Ministry of Health’s aim was to try to prevent the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C, HIV, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and syphilis, which can be passed between people sharing glass pipes via sores and burns on their lips.

In 2011, Vancouver Coastal Health also started giving away free crackpipes, distributing more than 100,000 in one five-month period alone.

Crack cocaine is still the most popular drug among respondents who participated in the Greater Vancouver study, all of whom reported having used hard drugs at least once in the past six months.

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