Tim Wieclawski/metro ottawa
Yvonne Macosz prepares to draw blood from Justin Lascelle to test for HIV yesterday. Lascelle, a former crack addict, decided to get tested at Somerset West Community Health Centre after reading about the risks of acquiring diseases.
Ottawa’s safe inhalation program — a.k.a., free crack pipe kits — was too important a part of addressing the city’s crack problem to just let die, say a coalition of community groups that yesterday announced it will continue to run the now cancelled municipal program.
The group of 10 community-based social service organizations, affiliated with the Ottawa Coalition on HIV/AIDS, has pledged to continue distributing the pipes to addicts from today through to the end of the year, after the city officially ended its involvement yesterday.
“It’s going to operate under the same rules as before,” said Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre. “The only difference will be that Ottawa Public Health will not be a partner.”
McCarthy said services should continue as usual, but it is possible there could be some disruptions while the coalition makes arrangements to purchase new supplies.
The coalition will seek other partners to develop a way to keep the program long term.
Justin Lascelle, an addict who has been clean for one month, said the program should be expanded instead of cancelled.
“There’s crack everywhere,” he said. “Sharing a crack pipe on the street is pretty disgusting, but when you’re high you don’t care. People share needles. That’s a lot worse.”
The goal of the program is to stop the spread of Ottawa’s high rates of HIV and hepatitis C in the drug-using community, said Ron Chaplin, chair of the Ottawa Coalition on HIV/AIDS.
“Make no mistake, our goal is to help people get off crack,” said Chaplin. “But in the interim we also have to help prevent the spread of … highly contagious diseases.”
Chaplin said he was impressed by the level of support for the program.
until the end of the year
- Combined, the organizations will pay $15,000 to keep the program going until Dec. 31, or about $9 per day for each partner.