02/20/2014 05:27 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Crack Pipe Vending Machines? Are You Kidding Me?

Colin Askey

So now Vancouver has crack pipe vending machines - have you heard? This was on the news, local and nationally, for about two nights and then it was not covered anymore - and has now been virtually forgotten about. But I am unable to do that.

According to those scanty news reports, Vancouver Coastal Health has approved the Portland Hotel Society in the Downtown Eastside to run newly transformed sandwich vending machine now containing crack pipes. Addicts can purchase pipes for 25 cents each. (I can't help but wonder if these machines are supervised 24 hours a day or whether even kids can buy a few for mere quarters at a time, perhaps just for a lark to start with - maybe even your kids or your children's kids.)

I also have to wonder, whose bright idea is this?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the concept of harm reduction very well, both personally and professionally. When I was in active addiction myself, many years ago, I tried to practice harm reduction any number of times, to no avail - always finding my way back into the desperation of full-blown addiction before too long.

When people are addicted to a mind-altering substance, even on a harm-reduction basis, it's really only a matter of time before most will be using as much if not more than they were prior to trying that particular experiment.

When people are addicted, the way to become healthy is to STOP the addiction, not try whatever they can to manipulate it.

As an addiction therapist for over 20 years, I have never once worked with an addicted client who was able to "control" their addictive behaviour for very long. In my lengthy experience with addiction, both as a practicing addict and as a professional therapist, I've seen that controlled drinking and/or using just doesn't work because, as we who work in this field well know, addiction is a progressive condition that becomes worse over time.

I also understand the various arguments that the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) has put forward -- the loudest, of course, being that supplying addicts with clean crack pipes will decrease the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. But even if that's true, there are a few other issues that I believe they are not getting about this whole plan.

Please allow me to explain some of them to you.

These addicts are being enabled to continue using crack, often living in dreadful situations with virtually no sense of worth or self-respect. They know they're addicts and a drain on society, and they desperately wish they weren't doing this to themselves or to their loved ones who constantly worry about them.

After cutting the number of detox beds and accessible treatment programs substantially over the years -- with little funding left for prevention and education -- our government is now spending money to stock crack pipes in vending machines in the very area of our city where the largest population of people's lives have been absolutely decimated by continued drug use.

"Oh, come on, Candace," I can hear some of you say. "What's the big deal, it's only 25 cents a pop!"

Well, let me assure you that there are hundreds of crack addicts living in the Downtown Eastside, who will each buy several of these pipes every day. These machines can easily sell a lot of pipes to a lot of addicts, day and night. This can add up to a whole lot of money being collected from addicts for crack pipes.

Does anyone know yet whose pockets that money will line? I know I don't.

I'm told that my tax dollars will be funding this crazy project -- and your tax dollars too. Were any of us consulted before this went into effect? I know I wasn't.

But I believe that the most important question for us to be asking is "What message are we sending to the addicts buying the crack pipes?" The people at PHS will argue that we're letting them know we care about their health by doing this.

My response to that is, "Are you kidding me?" And that's me, putting it nicely.

If we truly cared about the addicts in our city, we would find ways to stop enabling them, rather than continuing despicable practices like this one. If we cared, we'd be writing letters and making phone calls and lobbying our elected officials -- you know, the ones who are choosing to not pay attention to the terrible enabling these crack pipe machines are really about.

As "caring" citizens of this magnificent city, we would implore them to put money back into prevention, education, detox, and treatment instead of letting these addicts just continue to use, day in and day out, armed with government-provided crack pipes!

And if all this wasn't bad enough, now the PHS is bragging about a program they've apparently had in place for several months -- I hope you're sitting down as you read this -- where they are teaching alcoholics how to make their own wine. Literally teaching them how to make alcohol to feed their addiction.

Yes, you heard right. Can this really be happening?

One guy interviewed said, "I need to have my alcohol or else I'll have seizures." Has he never been told that he will be medically supervised at a detox -- after which he could choose to stop drinking??? Or is the PHS so focused on "harm reduction" that the staff there neglect to tell their clients important facts such as these?

How can these horrific practices actually be helping anyone? How can these people at the Portland Hotel look at themselves in the mirror and be OK with who they see?

Are you kidding me?

An earlier version of this blog was first published in the Vancouver Observer.


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