A public health advocacy group plans to distribute free crack pipes in San Francisco, despite the objection of city officials, including the mayor’s office which stated: “Mayor Lee is not aware of this exploration and is not supportive. There are many other HIV interventions that could and should be explored before ever considering this.”
The group involved in the giveaway Urban Survivors Union, promised to hand out 50-100 crack pipes per day beginning in March. The purpose of the giveaway is to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among crack users. The USU says that the spread of these diseases has not been curbed among crack users and this could be a way to help this segment of the population.
Officialson both sides of the debate have issued strong statements regarding this plan. Laura Thomas, a member of the HIV Prevention Planning Council, made the following statement regarding the planned distribution: “San Francisco has a long history of being at the cutting edge of things that we have turned out to be very right on … and I would like to see this one be another of those things that we were right about before the rest of the country catches on.
“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.”
But opponents of the program contend there has to be a better way of handling the issue of cocaine addiction and HIV without distributing crack pipes. In addition, crack pipes are considered drug paraphernalia, which means that possession is illegal and could lead to arrests. The head of the San Francisco Republican party, Harmeet K. Dhillon, had the most heated response against the giveaway.
“Continuing the theme of San Francisco being the utopian petri dish of America, this is the utmost of San Francisco absurdity …There is zero evidence showing that handing out ‘clean’ crack pipes to addicts will do anything to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases, and this just sounds like another pathetic idea to entertain viewers of ‘The Daily Show,’ ” said Dhillon.
The program of giving away free IV needles was at first met with great opposition, but now needle giveaway programs are in many major U.S. cities. The San Francisco program would not be the first to do a crack pipe giveaway. The program has already been initiated in parts of Canada and considered to be successful in reaching elements of crack users in need of outreach programs.