A bad idea. And illegal.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve had an ongoing debate about the rationale for giving free crack pipes to crack addicts, a program that costs several hundred thousand dollars a year when the city doesn’t have the funds to build a badly needed drug treatment facility. Now it turns out these programs are in violation of a contractual agreement signed by the Government of Canada:

UN agency lashes Canada over crack-pipe programs
Thursday, March 6, 2008
CBC News

The United Nations has denounced programs in three Canadian cities that provide safe crack pipes to drug addicts with the aim of curbing disease.

The crack pipe programs in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto violate a worldwide anti-drug convention signed by Canada in 1988, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board says in its annual report, released Wednesday.

“The board calls upon the government of Canada to end programs such as the supply of ‘safer crack kits,’ including the mouthpiece and screen components of pipes for smoking crack,” the control board’s report says. Government-funded safe-injection sites, too, violate the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs, the board says.

Ottawa cut its municipal funding for the city’s crack-pipe program in July — with critics like Mayor Larry O’Brien and police Chief Vern White saying the money could be better spent on addiction treatment — but the Ontario government stepped in in December to fund the community groups that distribute pipe parts to drug users.

The Ontario Health Ministry said the UN drug agency’s report contradicts the findings of another UN organization.  “The evidence shows — and this is evidence that’s supported by the World Health Organization — … that you really can prevent the spread of infectious diseases through safe inhalation or safe injection sites,” said Laurel Ostfield, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman.

The Ottawa community centre that runs the city’s safe-pipe program said the UN drug agency doesn’t understand the purpose of the initiative. “This is a health issue. It’s about stopping the spread of HIV and hep C,” Jack McCarthy, director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, said. “That’s why the province funded our centre.”

No, Mr. McCarthy. If you really want to intervene to limit the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in drug addicts, intervene at the foundation of the problem: drug addiction in this case. The money being used to fund this program would be far more effectively used to provide addictions treatment, especially in a province that now often has to send its young people to the U.S. for treatment.

Addendum:  

Ottawa’s needle-exchange policy too dangerous, shelter says 
Thursday, March 13, 2008
CBC News

One of Ottawa’s main homeless shelters has abandoned the city’s policy of handing out clean needles to addicts even if they don’t have a dirty one to turn in for safe disposal, saying used needles are littering parks and streets and create a danger for the public.

The Shepherds of Good Hope’s new policy is to provide clean needles only to people who turn in dirty ones.

Prompted by Byward Market-area residents who collected more than 1,000 discarded needles, the Shepherds conducted an audit of its program over a 25-day period.

“We gave out just under 2,000 needles, and less than 500 came back. There was so many more going out than coming in,” said Yvonne Garvey, a spokeswoman for the shelter.

Market residents Chris and Lisa Grinham were concerned about the safety of their children when they set out to collect discarded needles in their area. They collected more than 1,000 in a six-week period.

“Because we have such distribution, and because there is such availability of this stuff, now they [addicts] are shooting up and dropping them where they are shooting up,” said Chris Grinham.

The Shepherds of Good Hope is one of 13 agencies distributing clean needles in a program designed to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and not all of them agree with the change made by the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Rob Boyd, who runs the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, makes no apology for operating what is essentially a needle-distribution program.

“There was mounting evidence that we weren’t getting enough needle coverage throughout the city, and therefore we adopted a distribution model as opposed to an exchange model,” Boyd told CBC News on Wednesday.

The Grinhams and Shepherds of Good Hope fear that approach means addicts have no incentive to dispose of needles properly.

Indeed. Again, why are we focusing on enabling addiction rather than on providing treatment facilities?

addiction, crack pipe programs, treatment, United Nations agreement

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5 Comments

  1. Free crack pipes? How absurd. Providing free disposable needle is an excellent idea, since it reduces the risks of infection, but what possible benefit is there in handing out free pipes?

  2. What I thought was funny, why is the UN butting its nose into the business of Canada anyway? If a city in Canada decides to give away crack pipes, so be it – its none of anyone eleses business.

  3. When an individual or a group or an organization or a nation signs a contract, the general assumption is that the parties signing that contract intend to live up to the agreement. Canada signed a UN contract. Why are they ignoring it?

  4. If a city in Canada decides to give away crack pipes.the general assumption is that the parties signing that contract intend to live up to the agreement.

    sam

    Crack Cocaine

  5. What parties? It’s not like anyone is signing a contract with the addicts. The only contract is between the city and the people hired to give the pipes away. What’s being violated is a pre-existing contract with the UN.

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