Friday, August 3, 2007

Crack pipe program not proven to reduce HIV, hep C: councillor

There's not enough evidence that an Ottawa program that provides free crack pipes to drug users has directly resulted in lower rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection, says the Ottawa councillor who initiated the program's cancellation.

"We need to have very solid evidence before council endorses any kind of program that sends that kind of mixed message," said Coun. Rick Chiarelli in an interview Tuesday, adding that residents have complained that it encourages illegal drug use.

Councillors voted in favour of Chiarelli's motion in July to end the program at the end of the month.

Chiarelli said the program's cancellation came amid requests from advocates for $500,000 to study how effective the program was at reducing the spread of disease, "which means there is no conclusive evidence one way or the other," he said.

He argued the controversy over the program erodes support for the city's overall strategy to fight drug addiction and accompanying social problems.

Program reduces risk: doctor

Meanwhile, advocates of the program said there is plenty of evidence that distributing free crack pipes reduces the risk of disease transmission, even if transmission rates haven't been measured in relation to the program.

"We know that when folks share drug paraphernalia, that's when they are at risk of transmitting those diseases," said Dr. Dona Bowers, a family physician at the Somerset West Community Health Centre at a news conference held by a group of community agencies Tuesday.

The 10 agencies were announcing their intention to continue the program until the end of the year using their own funding.

Bowers said the program reduces the sharing of homemade crack pipes, which can cause cuts or burns.

She also cited a University of Ottawa study by epidemiology professor Lynne Leonard that showed the program resulted in drug users switching from riskier injection drug use to smoking crack.

"We know that among the IV drug users in our community, there are enormous rates of disease," she said, adding that a fifth of IV drug users are infected with HIV and more than 75 per cent are infected with hepatitis C.

Finally, she added, the program helps drug users develop a relationship with the health and social workers who distribute the crack pipes.

In January, the city's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Salisbury, told reporters that that the city's HIV infection rate fell from 39 cases in a year to 12 after the program was introduced in 2005.

source: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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