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Canada: Free Crack Mouthpieces on the Way

January 4, 2008

As early as April, British Columbia's Ministry of Health will allocate funds to buy sterile surgical tubing to help prevent crack-cocaine smokers from transmitting diseases while sharing pipes.

"People who smoke crack often burn their lips and have sores on their lips, and that sore can have blood in it," said Dr. Perry Kendall, chief medical officer for the province. "A well-run [mouthpiece] program offers a lot of promise to reduce blood-borne diseases and to introduce people to health care and addiction services."

The decision, made by the Provincial Harm Reduction Committee, followed the Dec. 12 release of a report showing hepatitis C on an infected user's crack pipe stem. Kendall said crack pipe smokers also risk acquiring HIV, TB, and syphilis from sharing contaminated stems.

The two- to five-centimeter pieces of rubber tubing, which can be attached on the end of the pipe stem, will be available through the province's five health authorities. The province also distributes free syringes, alcohol swabs, and water vials to prevent infections among drug users.

In the Center for Addictions Research B.C. study, researchers found 22 of 51 Toronto crack smokers tested positive for hepatitis C. In addition, "They recovered the viruses from a crack pipe, so it clearly can be a method of transmission," Kendall said. He estimated hepatitis C infection costs the province $71 million-$143 million (US $70.9 million-$142.9 million) per year, while a piece of rubber tubing costs less than a penny.

On Wednesday, the Vancouver Island Authority said it will participate in the pipe stem program. A spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health, Viviana Zanocco, said the Lower Mainland would also likely place orders.

Back to other news for January 2008

Adapted from:
Vancouver Province
01.03.2008; Kate Webb

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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