A Winnipeg harm reduction group is providing crack-smoking paraphernalia to hardcore users in the largest city in Manitoba, a Canadian province bordering North Dakota and Minnesota, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The group, Street Connections, is working with the approval of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), which okayed the program as a means of curbing the spread of disease.
The kits consist of glass tube pipes, cleaners, alcohol swabs, and matches, as well as lip balm to prevent users' lips from cracking and chewing gum to prevent teeth grinding. They cost the WHRA about $1.50 each, and the organization said it has distributed about half of the 200 kits it has assembled since the program began August 16.
"I think this is a very good use of public health -- it's a harm reduction service," said Dr. Margaret Fast, WRHA medical health officer. "We're not helping addicts have more, we're helping them to be safer when they use," she told the Free Press. "People who use crack are already doing it and they are often using very poor equipment, so we want them to be safe when they undertake this activity."
Fast said harm reduction workers assess clients and try to make a connection with them while handing out the kits. "It's all very controlled," she said. "We work with our clientele on a one-on-one basis. We won't go to known crack houses and hand them out."
The initiative is supported by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. "The objective is to keep those folks as safe as they can, while building a relationship with them," said Laura Goosen, director of the Winnipeg region. "Hopefully, those users will move toward a point when they are ready to make changes in their life."
Winnipeg police are aware of the program and have no concerns, Fast said. But despite support from the WHRA, law enforcement, and the harm reduction and treatment communities, the conservative Winnipeg Sun managed to scare up some opposition. It found and quoted two ex-crackheads who thought it was a bad idea and the director of a Christian drug treatment facility who called the idea "retarded."