Pubdate: Sat, 04 Dec 2004 Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB) Author: Frank Landry


WRHA Resumes Handing Out Of Crack Kits

Crack kits are back. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has resumed distributing taxpayer-funded "safer crack use kits" to addicts after pulling the packages off the street in early October.

"We're back to where we wanted to be," said Dr. Margaret Fast, a medical officer of health with the WRHA.

Officials in October said the glass crack pipes included in the kits weren't up to snuff because they had a tendency to shatter when they hit concrete.

Fast confirmed the health authority was unable to find an alternative pipe.

"There isn't really anything better," she said.

The new kits are nearly identical to the old ones. The only difference is lip balm has been removed from the packages -- which Fast said wasn't being used much by addicts. Crack users tend to get dry and cracked lips.

Outreach workers began distributing the kits again on Nov. 15.

Tory health critic Myrna Driedger said it's absurd the province and health authority are again offering the packages. She said it's feeding the habit of crack addicts.


"It shows the poor judgment of the Doer government to be doing this," Driedger said.

The success of the program is questionable, she said.

A WRHA survey of addicts who picked up the kits found 39% were still sharing their pipes. That's down from 81% who were sharing when the program began last summer.

"The success rate isn't terribly high," Driedger said.

Fast said the numbers show the program has been quite successful but acknowledged "there's some way to go."

John Borody, CEO of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, said there is a public risk anytime addicts are sharing pipes.

Diseases like AIDS and hepatitis can be spread from small cuts around the lips and mouth.

However, Borody said he was glad to see fewer users are sharing their pipes.

During the first 50 days of the project about 900 crack-smoking packages were given away -- complete with glass pipes, chewing gum, lip balm, matches and condoms.

That works out to an average of about 17 kits a day -- on par with the number of crack kits handed out under a similar program in Toronto, a city with a population several times that of Winnipeg. Unlike the Winnipeg model -- which was launched on Aug. 16 -- the Toronto program is privately funded.

The Winnipeg kits, which are assembled by WRHA staff, cost taxpayers about $2 each.