Even counsellors disagree on effect of decision

Addiction counsellors had mixed reviews yesterday about the city’s decision to kill a controversial program that distributed free crack pipes to addicts — with some saying drug users’ health will suffer as a result, but others believing it will encourage addicts to seek help.

Jen Jones, senior addiction counsellor at Empathy House, said she anticipates a spike in health-related problems without the program. A long-term women’s treatment centre, Empathy House deals with “quite a few crack-related problems,” she said.

“It’s really increased. Half of them have hep C. Even if they get off the drug, it stays with them. Prevention is the best treatment.


“I think it was an impulsive thing to pull (the program),” Jones said. “It was very short-sighted. I don’t think the decision was based on full information.”

Not everyone who helps addicts concurs, however. Sobriety House addiction counsellor Sherry Deschamps agrees the prevalence of crack is a problem in Ottawa, but said a message had to be sent through cancellation of the program that drug use is not condoned.

Crack addiction is the biggest problem the centre sees, with about 85 per cent of Sobriety House clients dealing with crack-related problems. Ending the pipe program, she said, will force addicts to make a choice to seek treatment rather than enabling their addiction.

But Brooke Bryce, with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, said the program required a comprehensive program review before any decision to cancel it was made.

Bryce said it’s difficult for the centre to comment on the success of the harm reduction program without a review, but she saw promising evidence that the program reduced hepatitis C and HIV in test groups.

“The biggest thing is, we should let the evidence point to what we should have done,” said Bryce. “I’m not sure the program was given proper opportunity (to prove itself).”

face off

  • Proponents of the two-year-old program claimed it staunched the spread of disease among crack-pipe users. Critics said it promoted illegal drug use.

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