Friday, 26 August 2011

Safer crack use kits

Thank you for visiting CSSDPs new blog. It isn't all that ornate, but we're ok with that. We are excited to post more entries from a variety of members.

And now on to a recent issue close to this posters heart.

Some of you might be aware that Safeworks, a harm reduction service provider in Calgary, AB has been ordered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) to discontinue their crack pipe distribution program last week.

After the recent media surge following Vancouver’s implementation of a crack pipe distribution program, writers at the Calgary Sun went to see if Calgary had any similar sort of service.

And they discovered Safeworks, who have been distributing the same supplies since 2008.

Upon discovering this, the sun published two articles condemning the program, claiming it is “enabling” drug users and wasting tax dollars. Shortly after these articles were released, Alberta health services distributed a memo calling for Safeworks to discontinue the distribution of crack pipes.

Later that day, news spread across social media. When I learned of the news I could hardly contain my shock and anger.

And hopefully when you finish reading this, you will understand why.

Many people understand the purpose of needle exchange programs. There is well-established evidence to support the argument that such programs reduce the transmission of blood borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis. It is obvious how sharing needles involves the transfer of bodily fluids, but less so for crack pipes.

The answer? Mouth sores.

Often people who smoke crack will have mouth sores, especially when using non-recommended equipment such as pop cans. Therefore, blood borne pathogens can be transmitted when sharing crack pipes.

The arguments in support of these programs don’t end there. There is also evidence to suggest that having access to clean inhalation equipment reduces the frequency of injection crack use. While smoking crack has obvious risks associated, it is far less harmful than injecting.

So there are just a couple medical arguments….

But to truly understand the significance of this program, we have to go deeper.

Now I’m going to bring you back to last year when I got the opportunity to join the Safeworks van for a night.

I was visiting my family in Calgary, and was excited to be invited on a ride along. I had just began to get involved with drug policy activism, and it was my first time experiencing frontline harm reduction work.

What I saw still inspires me to this day.

We drove around to various areas of the city stopping at points to distribute supplies. As I watched the staff interact with clients, I came to realize that what they were offering was so much more than clean crack pipes.

“Hey Joe, I got you an appointment with a new housing worker”

“Martha, how is your leg healing up?”

They were building relationships with people. They were watching out for people who may have otherwise been forgotten.

The staff did amazing work that night, and will continue to do so today. Only now they’ve lost an integral part of their program.

This week I’ve become overwhelmed by the hatred and ignorance people have been displaying. Reading more Calgary sun articles and the comments included, I have been horrified by how insensitive people can be.


I am also encouraged by those who I have discussed this issue with, and have left the conversation with a new perspective. I was born and raised in Calgary, and I know that most people there are intelligent, compassionate individuals.

So I ask whoever reads this to consider my argument. If you feel comfortable, please contact the CEO of Alberta health services, Alberta justice, and spread the word to those in your community.

Everyone is worth health and happiness.

Alex Rowan

What you can do to support Safeworks:
Alberta Health Services CEO: E-mail:
Phone: 780-342-2000
Toll free: 1-888-342-2471

AHS patient concerns officer: Phone: 1-866-561-7578

Alberta Justice: Phone: 780-427-2711


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