A local charity will continue distributing materials for smoking crack cocaine regardless of the ban Alberta Health Services has issued to one of its own agencies.
Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, said on Tuesday that Safeworks, a harm prevention agency of Alberta Health Services, has been ordered to stop distributing stems, hoses, pipes, screens and other items used for smoking crack cocaine. The agency will continue distributing needles.
Although the provincial agency and the charity provide similar services, the order will have no impact on the distribution system set up at CAANS, Vanderschaeghe said during a meeting with local reporters on Tuesday.
CAANS distributes tools used for smoking crack for two reasons, she said.
Besides cutting down the health hazards that face people who smoke crack, access to clean equipment brings users into the CAANS office where staff can get to know them so they can offer whatever help they are willing to accept, including helping find ways to get clean.
Access to good tools helps prevent injury and prevents users from spreading disease, including HIV and hepatitis C, said Vanderschaeghe.
“It’s an important public health policy. It’s important that the users have the opportunity to prevent HIV and hep C and it’s the right thing to do, because they deserve access to health care and this is what this is,” she said.
Research shows that access to safe materials does not increase drug use but can actually decrease drug use, and also decreases litter, said Vanderschaeghe.
There is a time after prevention attempts have failed and before the user quits where CAANS is the only agency working with people when they are most vulnerable to overdoses.
“We’re the ones who have credibility with this population. It’s important that somebody in their world trusts them and will help them when they need it,” she said.
CAANS gives out an average of 500 items for smoking crack every month, with limits on the number of pieces a user can get per day, covered by donations to the group.
Costs of individual pieces include 34 cents for the glass stems, 79 cents for a package of screens, $20 for 152 feet of hose that is then cut into suitable lengths and $1.59 for enough skewers to make 1,000 push sticks.
Each piece of equipment is distributed individually because some pieces are quite expensive and can be safely reused. The glass stem, for example, can be reused up to 1,000 times.