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Free Crack Pipe Program In San Francisco Hopes To Build On Initial Effort

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - Despite opposition from San Francisco officials, a program to provide free crack pipes to drug users has now distributed some 200 pipes since it began in March.

When news of the planned program came out in January, the very idea was met with widespread opposition by city leaders. Despite the city's rejection, Urban Survivors Network has been handing out kits containing clean tubes and alcohol wipes since March, according to the paper.

Activists claim that the program has many of the same benefits of needle exchanges, essentially connecting users with services that could help them turn their lives around.

A report in the San Francisco Examiner that the crack pipe program was set to expand to St. James Infirmary at 1372 Mission St. was denied by a hospital representative Thursday.

Crack pipe distribution programs have been successful in Canada, said Laura Thomas, a member of the HIV Prevention Planning Council (HPPC), the group that recently suggested San Francisco consider a similar program.

Why give out free crack pipes? Unlike used needles, which pierce the skin and can immediately infect someone who shares it, the sharing of crack pipes doesn't have that same likelihood of physical contamination of HIV. Instead, officials said, the main focus of this program would be as an outreach effort. Crack users are a population identified as at major risk to have HIV and they often become disconnected from medical services and stop taking their medicine.

"It may seem counter intuitive, but it's a great program," said Thomas.  "Once you can bring people into your program, make them feel respected, taken care of, then they're more likely to come back and get on HIV meds and want to be engaged and taking care of their health."

Check out the January KPIX 5 story on why organizers think the idea could improve overall conditions for users:

The City of San Francisco hands out 2.7 million clean needles a year to IV drug users. Advocates said giving clean glass pipes to crack users could also cut HIV and Hepatitis C cases.

Organizer Isaac Jackson said the pipe kits cost about $1 each and about 200 have been handed out over the first two months.

Jackson said he hopes to show initial success with the small-scale program and build support inside City Hall for a larger effort.


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