San Francisco Drug Activists to Hand Out Free Crack Pipes Despite Official Disapproval

| by Allison Geller

San Francisco lawmakers have answered calls to support of an initiative to hand out crack pipes to addicts with a resounding “no.” The organization responsible plans to see the action through anyway.

An activist from the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood said he would hand out free, clean crack pipes to users in an effort to cut down on HIV and Hepatitis C. Crack users represent as much as a quarter of the San Francisco hard-core drug user population.

The San Francisco government hands out 2.7 million clean needles every year for the same reason, according to the Department of Public Health. The reasoning goes that it cuts down on disease, while also empowering users and making them more likely to seek HIV and drug treatments.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a great program. Once you can get people into your program, make them feel respected, taken care of them, they’re more likely to want to come back and want to get on HIV meds,” said Laura Thomas of the HIV Prevention and Planning Council. Thomas has made a formal recommendation to DPH in support of the crack pipe exchange.

But when officials got wind of Tenderloin’s plans, they responded that they could not approve the handing out of crack pipes. The DPH said it “does not support” the action, while a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee told media that the mayor is “not supportive.”

“There are many other HIV interventions that could and should be explored before ever considering this,” said spokeswoman Christine Falvey.

The advocate’s response?

“We decided that we would just begin doing it,” said Isaac Jackson, who founded a small group of drug user advocates called the Urban Survivors Network. Jackson is a Tenderloin resident and drug user himself.

Jackson said his group would hand out 25-50 crack pipes during the first week of March. He didn’t state the source of his funding.

While sharing crack pipes doesn’t represent the same HIV risk as sharing needles, the event is designed as an outreach program to bring drug users into a supportive community. Since crack pipes are considered drug paraphernalia, there’s a chance that Jackson and his cohort could get prosecuted for their actions.

Sources: San Francisco Examiner, CBS Local