Thunder Bay

How safe inhalation kits can help prevent the spread of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can be transmitted in many ways, even when sharing a crack pipe. One Thunder Bay organization is providing people with safe inhalation kits and injection kits as part of the Superior Points Harm Reduction Program to stop the spread of Hep C.

Elevate NWO provides harm reduction kits as a safer alternative to bloody needles and used equipment

Elevate NWO provides safe inhalation kits, injection kits, and naloxone as was to prevent the spread of hepatitis and take a harm reduction approach to drug use. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Elevate NWO is providing information to the public regarding how safe inhalation kits can help people prevent the spread of Hepatitis C.

The safe inhalation kits include a mouthpiece, pipe screens, a wooden stick, a glass pipe, and a leaflet on how to smoke crack, safely. 

Eric Shih, the Director of Education and Community Development at Elevate NWO, says providing the kits are important to stop the spread of hepatitis and offers a cleaner, safe method from a health perspective, for using substances.  

The safe inhalation kits feature a wooden dowel, glass pipe, mouthpiece, pipe screens, and a leaflet highlighting safe crack smoking tips. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

"Hep C is spread through blood to blood contact. So if people are injecting, any blood that gets on any injecting equipment, even micro droplets, that could be a way of transmitting the virus," said Shih. The organization also provides safe injection and naloxone kits in their harm reduction room. 

"For safer crack, using new pipes or using new screens can also prevent the transmission as well because, one thing that we do know that it is possible to transmit Hep C through a crack pipe- lets say the lips get burned and chapped and if you just pass it on to someone else, that's a way of transferring it like that."

Elevate NWO works with the Superior Points Harm Reduction program to provide the services.

Screens are safer than Brillo

Shih says some people have been using Brillo pads when smoking crack and that poses a serious health risk. As a result, the safe crack smoking kits provide an alternative.

According to Ken Miller, the outreach worker at Elevate, when using Brillo, the user would cut a small piece off it and put it into the glass pipe. They would then use the wooden dowel to apply pressure to the Brillo so it was more compact. He says people have been using Brillo because it doesn't take as much time to set up.

Eric Shih is the Director Education and Community Development at Elevate NWO. He says providing these kits allow for a safer alternative from a health perspective. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

"We advise people not to use Brillo though as it breaks apart and can cause harm to the person and instead we ask them to use the bronze screens that we supply in our kits as they are safer when heated," he wrote in a written email.

Shih says while the information in the kits may change from time to time, it was important to include the information about Brillo because people need to know the risk.

"It was important enough that its a message that we want to kind of get out. That's one of the bits of information that we want to get out there, just so people who make use of these supplies do know...the ways of using it more safely."

Harm Reduction and no judgment approach

Shih says there are certainly people out there who may not understand why crack smoking kits are being offered to the public. He says Elevate's mission is just to provide a harm reduction approach to the issue.

"As an organization, our stand viewpoint is that we apply harm reduction to everything we do and how we operate. And the way it works is we don't condone drug use, nor do we condemn it," explains Shih.

The safe inhalation kits can be obtained by anyone in the community from the Elevate NWO harm reduction room. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

He says there are people that will use drugs anyway, so it is a matter of making that practice less harmful.

"We recognize that it's happening. So if it's happening in society, its in everybody's best interest from an individual perspective to a societal perspective for people to do it as safely as possible."

"Now of course drug use right now is not legal. But that doesn't mean people shouldn't know how to do it more safely and have that information available. And that's what we are doing."

'People who use drugs, they're all of us'

While many people may not understand the nuances of smoking crack and the reasoning behind offering safer alternatives, Shih says it comes down to where people are from and what they are exposed to.

"It really depends on where you're from and your background. So people who are not familiar with drug use, they wouldn't know. But people who use drugs they know what's going on, they know those things," said Shih. "So it's not about getting people on the road to abstinence, it's about taking stock of where they are in the moment, and what can they do for themselves, right then and there.

Shih said it should be in everyone's interest to care about drug use because there is so much stigma surrounding it.

Elevate NWO also has safe injection kits to avoid people reusing bloody needles. It's all a part of the organization's harm reduction approach and to provide service without judgement. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

"People who use drugs, they're all of us. They're us, they're our neighbours, they're our family, they're our friends. When you put a human face to that, I think you realize that that's important."

Shih says stigma around drug use often keep people away from getting tested for issues like HIV and Hepatitis C.

"It keeps people away from accessing the healthcare that they might need because they may be afraid of how they may be judged or perceived," said Shih.

About the Author

Kirthana Sasitharan is a Journalist with CBC News. Reach her on twitter @KirthanaSasitha.