SF group handing out free crack-pipe kits expects to expand 

click to enlarge crack pipes
  • Although city officials remain opposed to the idea, the Urban Survivors Network says providing free crack pipes to users could prevent disease.
A renegade crack pipe distribution effort in the Tenderloin is entering its second month, despite opposition from city public-health and elected officials, and it’s expected to grow.

In March, the Urban Survivors Network began handing out kits containing clean glass tubes and alcohol wipes to drug users. Members of the organization said they hope The City, as with needle exchanges in the 1990s, eventually launch an official crack pipe exchange to take their place.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that you can do this and all hell won’t break loose,” said Isaac Jackson, a Tenderloin resident and drug user who is the main organizer behind the effort.

So far, Jackson and about five other volunteers have handed out 200 kits to hard-drug users on the street, he said Wednesday. The kits cost less than $1 each, he said. Money funding the operation came from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Various health programs, including some funded by The City, have provided sterile hypodermic needles to intravenous drug users for years. Earlier this year, the Department of Public Health’s HIV Planning and Prevention Council suggested doing the same with crack pipes, which can become disease vectors for hepatitis C and HIV if shared or used when broken.

However, the idea of a crack pipe exchange has been dismissed by both Mayor Ed Lee and health department Director Barbara Garcia. A health department spokeswoman said Tuesday that position has not changed.

The opposition came as a “big surprise,” Jackson said.

Regardless, the pipe exchange is now poised to expand.

Beginning next week, drug users will be able to access fresh pipes via an indoor location at St. James Infirmary, said Jackson, who remained hopeful that officials will change their minds.

“I think they’ll respond to science and public pressure better than to” the unofficial exchange, he said.

UPDATE: St. James Infirmary isn't participating in the crack pipe exchange, executive director Stephany Ashley said Thursday. "While we're supportive of the work of the Urban Survivors Network, there are no concrete plans to distribute crack pipes at 1372 Mission Street at this time," Ashley said.

Flyers distributed by the Urban Survivors Network had advertised that address as the first indoor venue for crack kit distribution.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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