SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — The crack epidemic is far from over, especially on the streets of San Francisco, and one group is trying to make it easier and safer for addicts to get their fix by giving away crack pipe kits.
The city of San Francisco already sponsors a program that gives out almost 3 million needles to drug users every year to help prevent the spread of blood borne illnesses like HIV.
But at twilight once a week in various places around the city, such as cold and windy alley off of Polk Street in the Tenderloin, addicts can get new crack pipes kit that comes packaged in small plastic bag.
“We think it’s kind of crazy the no one had made a concerted effort to reach this particular population. In the stages of the HIV crisis in the ‘80s, I lost a lot of my friends. It made me feel like I never wanted to see that again.” Issac Jackson, with the Urban Survivors Union—the group giving away the kits, said.
The kit includes a small round piece of glass, rubber mouthpiece, alcohol pad, small piece of steel wool that looks like Brillo. The intention is to reduce the harm of broken crack pipes which can cause cut lips and blisters that can spread hepatitis C and HIV.
While needle exchanges have been around for about 20 years, this crack pipe operation is brand new and underground. Addicts like Bruce, who only wanted to use his first name, said he is thankful.
“I was using a pipe that was broken on both ends; I was really high and I cut the sh-t out of my hand—probably over ten little cuts,” he said.
Shared needles can obviously help pass along disease—blood transfer is very easy. Crack pipes, it turns out, can do the same.
“When this gets hot, you leave some tissue on the end of it and when you pass it to somebody else, it’s going to adhere to somebody else’s lips,” Bruce, who carries both hepatitis C and HIV, said.
The City however, isn’t convinced and doesn’t condone the program. Tenderloin District Police Capt. Jason Churness has so far taken a hands-off approach to the new program, which just started last month. He said, however, there is no evidence to support it.
“I think the City and some the advocacy groups are taking an informed position and conscientious approach to needles but I think there may be a little stretch with argument as it relates to crack pipes,” he said.
“I have concerns about enabling some of our vulnerable population as this program may suggest it’s doing.”
Backers say the needle exchange was once a controversial program and that it’s just a matter of time before the City comes around to crack pipe giveaways too.