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Registered: 07/26/04
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Crack kits helping addicts but frustrating police [CA]
    #4894505 - 11/04/05 05:55 PM (15 years, 4 months ago)

Crack kits helping addicts but frustrating police
November 4, 2005 - NovaNewsNet

Needle exchange program reaches out to crack-using communities in Halifax Regional Municipality with free safer-use-crack kits, but police don't approve.

Mainline gives out safer-crack-use
kits, which include a glass stem,
a rubber piece to put over the pipe,
and five filters for the drug, so
users don't share dirty pipes and
potentially spread disease.

Sonya LeMay, 19, has been clean from crack for four months. Earlier this year, her weekend crack fix became daily when she went on a methadone program to break her heroin addiction.

When LeMay was using crack, she picked up free crack pipes at Halifax's Mainline Needle Exchange. Other users would offer for her to use their pipes, but they were often cracked or broken. LeMay, who feared picking up an infection from another user who might have a cut, burnt lip, or sores, was always looking for clean pipes -- and found them at Mainline.

"If it wasn't for Mainline, I would probably have ended up with AIDS or hep C or something," she says.

Handing out safer-crack-use kits, which contain a glass stem, a rubber piece to go over the pipe, and five screens for the drug, are one of several services the needle exchange provides. Mainline, which opened in 1992, offers "harm reduction" programs, such as needle and pipe exchanges, to keep drug addicts from sharing dirty pipes and bloody needles and spreading diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

The centre has been providing the kits for over a year, handing out 917 kits last month. But the Halifax Regional Police say they just found out and they aren't pleased.

Deputy Police Chief Chris McNeil says the program merely perpetuates crack abuse, and isn't supported with treatment, out-reach services to get users off the drugs, or housing. He says the police will support programs that manage health concerns while working addicts toward treatment, but Mainline's safe-crack-use kit program lacks that initiative.

"Handing out crack pipes doesn't get those people treatment, doesn't get them off the street, doesn't reduce that violent activity," says McNeil. "It perpetuates that activity."

Diane Bailey, Mainline's director, says handing out pipes, needles and condoms is just a small part of her staff's work. Mainline, which is funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Health, makes referrals to treatment programs, works with other local outreach programs, tries to find adequate housing for users, and hooks clients up with advocacy services, among other projects.

"We're all passionate about what we do here," she says. "None of us would ever want to be part of a program that just cast out a needle and that was it, or passed out a safer-crack-use kit and that was it, unless we could do all the other things."
A need for a new outreach

With the help of Health Canada and local outreach programs, Mainline produced a cocaine assessment report in April 2004, which aimed to develop a profile of the "high-risk" cocaine-using population in Nova Scotia. High-risk users are those who smoke or inject crack cocaine or cocaine, as opposed to snorting the drug. For the report, 75 self-reported cocaine users from the Halifax Regional Municipality completed questionnaires and the project co-ordinator interviewed 25 users.

From the questionnaires and interviews, the study recommended more harm-reduction programs for safer crack cocaine and cocaine use, including offering safe crack kits through an existing needle exchange program, as well as educating drug-using communities on the risks of cocaine use.

Soon after, Mainline started to provide safer-use-crack kits in the vicinity of its office in Halifax's north end. But, as clients told Bailey, users were sharing pipes in other communities. She says her staff needed to expand farther than its Cornwallis Street location to reach the municipality's crack-using population.

"Personally, I'm saying, 'What are we doing sitting here?'" she says. "We should be out where the people are."

And so the Taking it to the Streets project was born in January 2005. Mainline staff would bring suitcases with such supplies as crack kits, condoms and needles to high-risk areas around the city.

The project finished in March and Bailey submitted a new budget to the Nova Scotia Department of Health that asked for an increase to cover a community outreach program. The program would involve staff members travelling by van to various communities, providing Mainline's exchange services. With $250,000 of funding from the Department of Health, the community outreach program started in the summer.
"We're not trying to promote drug use. We're trying to keep it safe."

Michelle Lucas, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, says her department supports Mainline's safer-crack-use kit program because it's based in research and will produce results.

"We want to make sure that we have the right outcomes," she says. "And obviously we do that with programs that are based in research and are based in solid evidence."

The municipal councillor for the downtown Halifax district, Dawn Sloane, is more skeptical.

Sloane says she understands the good in trying to prevent diseases that get spread between users, but also questions if the program promotes drug use.

"You want people to be safe even if they're doing something bad," she says. "But should they be doing something bad in the first place?"

For Deputy Chief McNeil, a harm-reduction program only works when the risk of harm for the user outweighs the risk of the community. When it comes to passing crack pipes, he says the potential harm isn't the same as injecting needles.

Instead, he says the program perpetuates a drug addiction that is linked to violent criminal activity. According to McNeil, the police department had more than 40 robberies reported in the early spring, and seven of the 10 people arrested were crack addicts.

The solution isn't free crack kits but treatment, he says.

"We should be putting our money into getting people off and providing them treatment," he says.

Bailey says Mainline has worked to achieve a good relationship with community officers and she doesn't want to damage that. She says she'd like to meet with McNeil and explain to him why the centre has the program.

"This is health to us," she says. "These people have smoked crack before. We're not trying to promote drug use. We're trying to keep it safe."

LeMay is on the methadone program at a local treatment clinic, Direction 180, around the corner from Mainline. She attends an employment support program in Dartmouth, works at a financial services company and goes to counselling. She says she's clean from both heroin and crack.

"I'm totally 100 per cent clean from that shit," she says. "I'll never touch it again, never."

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