Calgary addicts no longer given crack pipes

Alberta health officials will no longer hand out clean crack pipes to addicts in Calgary.

Alberta health officials will no longer hand out free crack pipes to addicts in Calgary.

For three years Alberta Health Services [AHS] has been quietly handing out clean crack pipes to drug users on the street through a mobile van program called Safeworks.

But when Vancouver health officials announced a similar initiative a few weeks ago, the Calgary program gained a lot of attention in the media, much of it critical.

Earlier this week, AHS sent an email to Safeworks employees instructing them to stop handing out crack pipes.

Tim Richter, the CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, called it a step backwards.

"I think it is unfortunate. It … feels to me that we are letting some negative publicity stymie good public health," he said. "I think it has been proven that distributing these crack pipes to street involved addicts reduces transmission of everything from tuberculosis to HIV."

In an email to CBC News, AHS defended its decision to end the program.

"Although the initiative was focused on health objectives, there is reasonable potential for a legal challenge with respect to distribution. As such, crackpipes and all related devices are no longer offered through the Safeworks van," the email says.

"In Calgary, the Safeworks program van will continue to offer healthcare services – including referrals, immunizations, testing for communicable diseases and STIs, wound care, and health education – to at-risk individuals."

Steve Walton, a former police officer and drug expert in Calgary, said there is a criminal charge for distributing drug paraphernalia.

"[They] were in the process of seeking out direction from the crown prosecutors office and I think that that's a reasonable way to proceed and I think that it demonstrates they were undergoing due diligence to make sure that their position was a correct one."

However, Walton said providing free crack pipes gives medical professionals a chance to help addicts clean up, and improves public safety if a free hand-out stops even one addict from getting sick by sharing a pipe.