July 12, 2007
On Wednesday, the Ottawa City Council was expected to review a controversial crack pipe distribution program. Instead, it voted to end the outreach entirely.
Because crack pipe users can experience cuts to their lips, pipe-sharing among users can transmit blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Ottawa has an epidemic of those diseases, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Salisbury, and shared crack pipes and needles lead to more infections. "If we cannot control the HIV epidemic, it will affect us all. Whether in the pocketbook, or with the ones we lose," he said. Salisbury compared the program's annual $7,500 Canadian ($7,162 US) cost to the $600,000 ($573,000 US) average hospitalization cost per AIDS patient.
Councilor Rick Chiarelli, who introduced the motion to end the program, said there is "absolutely no evidence" the program reduces communicable diseases. Last year, a University of Ottawa study said the crack pipe program reduced pipe sharing but increased crack smoking. It cited, however, "significant scientific evidence" showing the program reduced crack smoking-related harm.
About 25 residents of a Sandy Hill neighborhood, who blame increased local crack use on the program, were delighted with the council's vote. "If you have $3 to spend and you can get a tall boy [beer] for $3.80 and a piece of crack for $3, what are you going to do?" asked Lance Valcour, a police inspector whose beat has included Sandy Hill for 30 years.
Salisbury was disappointed by the vote, as was the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "We have just voted to basically kill six to 12 people a year," said Councilor Clive Doucet.