Aggie posted a story about free crack pipes a couple of weeks ago.
In an effort to curb the spread of disease among drug users, Vancouver has become home to Canada’s very first crackpipe vending machines.
Installed on the city’s Downtown Eastside, the machines offer Pyrex crackpipes for only 25 cents.
‘For us this was about increasing access to safer inhalation supplies in Downtown Eastside,’ said Kailin See, the director of the DURC.
Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney said he disagrees with InSite’s mission only supporting treatments that end drug use entirely and ‘limiting access to drug paraphernalia.’
‘Drug use damages the health of individuals and the safety of our communities,’ he said. ‘We believe law enforcement should enforce the law.’
InSite argues that studies have shown harm reduction strategies lead to overall decreases in the infectious disease rates and make addicts more likely to get treatment by introducing them to health professionals.
‘This is one piece of a larger puzzle,’ See said. ‘You have to have treatment, you have to have detox, you have to have safe spaces to use your drug of choice, and you have to have safe and clean supplies.’
See argued that as every new HIV or hepatitis case could cost taxpayers up to $250,000 in medical treatment a mere 25 cents for a new pipe was a bargain.
This is an extension of the argument for free needles to addicts of intravenous drugs—and I don’t have an answer for either one. I take the side against the distribution of drug paraphernalia on the grounds that society shouldn’t encourage such destructive (self and otherwise) behavior. But I can’t dispute the other side. Giving addicts clean tools to poison themselves slowly (and cheaply) rather than slowly (and expensively) makes sense (and cents). My moral indignation feels powerful to me, but looks awfully puny next to a full-blown case of AIDS. Or even to the possibility of getting clean. What is my self-righteous condemnation compared to human potential to heal?
People make bad choices, to be sure, and sometimes those choices are beyond our fixing. Sometimes, people will die of their bad choices, and we can only watch (see Philip Seymour Hoffman). But what if we can buy them another day? I would guess that most addicts already know without our moralizing that what they are doing is wrong. But our moralizing ignores medical science if it does not acknowledge the chemistry behind addiction. Breaking the speed limit is wrong (not just against the law, but unsafe), but I do so routinely on the freeway. When I see a Statie, however, I can peg 55 mph for miles on end like an old lady from Poughkeepsie. No one seriously believes an addict jonesing for a fix (also unlawful, also unsafe) can make the same choice. Condemning such a person to die of a preventable disease (not before spreading it to others) seems a petty sort of moralism.
I seem to have made a persuasive argument against the position I hold. Maybe because I’m not sure; maybe there’s a compromise.
Maybe there’s room for moralizing and free (or cheap) crack pipes. A vending machine may protect addicts’ immune systems, but it gives up on their souls. Where’s the humanity in that? What if, instead, we sell ‘em cheap crack pipes and needles, but they have to ask for them from another human being? The answer will always be yes, but they have to present themselves and ask. We acknowledge their powerlessness over their addiction; they acknowledge their responsibility in their own health and safety. Might not that be the first step toward a cure? Isn’t that more hopeful than crack pipes next to Skittles, needles next to Diet Coke?
If we are to be truly human, there must be room for both moralizing and understanding. People will still die of bad choices, but the right choice should be available until the end. “Choose Life” is never a bad motto.