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Crack pipe vending machines in Vancouver

So now Vancouver has crack pipe vending machines—have you heard?

Actually, maybe you didn’t hear. Even if you live in the Vancouver area, you may not have heard. It seems to me that this was on the news, local and nationally, for about two nights and then it was not covered anymore—and has now been virtually forgotten about.

But somehow, I am unable to forget about it.

According to those scanty news reports, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has approved the Portland Hotel in the Downtown Eastside to sport a newly transformed sandwich vending machine now containing crack pipes on their premises. There is another one residing somewhere else in the Downtown Eastside—that’s all I heard about the other location on the broadcasts I saw. These vending machines stock clean crack pipes that addicts can purchase for 25 cents each. (I can’t help but wonder if these machines are supervised 24 hours a day or whether even kids can buy a few for mere quarters at a time, perhaps just for a lark to start with—maybe even your kids or your children’s kids.)

And I also have to wonder, whose bright idea is this?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of harm reduction very well, both personally and professionally. When I was in active addiction myself, many years ago, I tried to practice harm reduction any number of times, to no avail—always finding my way back into the desperation of full-blown addiction before too long. When people are addicted and continue using either a mind-altering substance or a mood-altering behaviour, even on a harm-reduction basis, it is really only a matter of time before most will be using as much if not more than they were prior to trying that particular experiment.

When people are addicted, the way to become healthy is to STOP the addiction, not try whatever they can to manipulate it.

As an Addiction Therapist for over 20 years, I have never once worked with an addicted client who was able to ‘control’ their addictive behaviour for very long. In my lengthy experience with addiction, both as a practicing addict and as a professional therapist, I’ve seen that controlled drinking and/or using just doesn’t work because, as we who work in this field well know, addiction is a progressive condition that becomes worse over time.

I also understand the various arguments that places like the Portland Hotel and Insite have put forward—the loudest, of course, being that supplying addicts with clean crack pipes will decrease the spread of HIV and HEP C. Apparently, Insite has statistics claiming this to be true about providing clean needles to heroin addicts—and maybe it is. I haven’t seen those stats. But even if that is the case, there are a few other issues that I believe they are not getting about this whole plan.

Please allow me to explain some of them to you.

These addicts are being enabled to continue using crack, a toxic and sometimes deadly substance that causes people to live in dreadful situations with virtually no sense of worth or self-respect. They know they’re addicts, they know they are a drain on society, they know they shouldn’t be doing this to themselves or to their loved ones who worry about them constantly—and most wish they didn’t have to. Our government has cut the number of detox beds and accessible treatment programs substantially over the years. There is little funding currently allotted for prevention and education—and yet this same government agency is now spending money to stock crack pipes in vending machines in the very area of our city where the largest population of people’s lives have been absolutely decimated by continued drug use.

“Oh, come on, Candace,“ I can hear some of you say. “What’s the big deal, it’s only 25 cents a pop!”

Well, let me assure you that there are hundreds of crack addicts living in the Downtown Eastside, who will each buy several of these pipes every day. To them, it may only be a buck a day to spend—but the reality is that these machines can easily sell a lot of pipes to a lot of addicts every day and every night. When we tally it up, that can add up to a lot of money being collected from addicts for crack pipes.

Does anyone know yet whose pockets that money will line? I know I don’t.

And it seems quite likely that it will be my tax dollars funding this crazy project—and your tax dollars too. Were any of us consulted before this went into effect? I know I wasn’t.

But aside from the issue of the money, for me the most important question for us to be asking is, “What message are we sending to the addicts buying the crack pipes?” The people at Insite and the Portland Hotel will argue that we’re letting them know we care about their health by doing this.

My response to that is, “Are you kidding me?” (And that’s me, putting it nicely.)

If we truly cared about the addicts in our city, we would find ways to stop enabling them, rather than continuing despicable practices like this one. If we cared, we would be taking the time to write letters and make phone calls and lobby our elected officials—you know, the ones who have decided to hide their collective head in the sand (can we say “denial’?) and not pay attention to the terrible enabling these crack pipe machines are really about—and as caring citizens of this magnificent city we live in, we would implore them to put money into prevention, education, detox, and treatment instead of letting the crack addicts just continue to use, day in and day out, with 25 cent crack pipes that the government itself is contributing to the addicts’ continued addiction.

How can this ridiculous idea actually be helping anyone, either in the short run or the long run? How can these people at the Portland Hotel look at themselves in the mirror and be okay with who they see?

Are you kidding me??

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