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TO eyes Ottawa’s crack program

Club night raises money for harm reduction

START HERE. Safer inhalation advocates demonstrated in February, well before the program was cancelled this summer. Credit: (Marcus McCann)

Our big city sisters are throwing a party — and the money is to go to Ottawa drug users.

The Safer Crack Use Coalition of Toronto (SCUCT) is hosting a bash on Nov 13 at Goodhandy’s to raise money to purchase crack pipe kits for Ottawa. Ottawa’s safer inhalation program was introduced in 2005, with help from SCUCT.

On Jul 16, Ottawa’s city council voted 15-7 to terminate the program.

Gays pioneered harm reduction in reaction to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. A study of Ottawa’s crack pipe program showed it reduced transmission of HIV and hepatitis and put hundreds of users in touch with health professionals.

Sarah Levitt, a member of the SCUCT, says that the termination of the program is a blatant form of discrimination.

“Our intention is really to act in solidarity with some of the struggles that are happening in Ottawa but also to stand up as every citizen should stand up when people are being discriminated against and when unhealthy public policies are being implemented,” says Levitt.

Levitt also says that when the SCUCT came to Ottawa in 2005 to help health workers set up the program, the overall opinion was that the program was effective and would be successful.

Levitt also points to cost as a reason to keep the program in Ottawa alive. The kits, which include condoms, lube, lip balm, health information and the makings of a glass pipe with a protective rubber mouthpiece, costs around $2 each.

“The treatment of hepatitis C costs $40,000 and that’s just the cost of medication. $40,000 buys a lot of pipes,” says Levitt.

AIDS Committee of Ottawa education and health coordinator Michelle Ball is thankful that someone is standing up for users in Ottawa.

“We know that HIV and Hepatitis C transmission can be reduced by using clean equipment and we know that not having clean equipment does not curb use” says Ball.

“I’m happy there is a city that is strong enough to stand up for the citizens of Ottawa.”