For a city that doles out millions of hypodermic needles free of charge -- about 2.7 million every year -- San Francisco is awfully reluctant to expand its drug paraphernalia giveaway game.
Public health professionals say that doling out free, unused crack pipes could cut down on disease transmissions and get more crack users into treatment. But, thus far, city health officials have steadfastly refused to start handing out pipes, and they even went as far as to dismiss discussion of the idea.
That's OK with drug users and drug war activists. As promised, they recently began handing out pipes and crack pipe cleaning kits themselves, as VICE recently reported. The reaction to date has been ... mixed.
The police appear not to care and health officials -- the same wholesale needle dealers -- are pretending not to notice.
Needles have been given away for free in San Francisco for close to 20 years now, and needle exchanges -- where dirty rigs can be swapped for clean ones, or clean ones just given out to those who ask -- are credited by cutting down the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users by a factor of three.
So why not exchange crack pipes, too? It sounds consistent, and as first reported by the Bay Area Reporter, the city's own HIV Planning and Prevention Council said in January that giving away free crack pipes could cut down on new HIV/AIDS infections.
The Department of Public Health has put its foot down on the issue. DPH Drector Barbara Garcia said months ago that the answer is "absolutely no," and Mayor Ed Lee has also gone on record opposing free crack pipes.
Ignoring the politics, the Urban Survivors Network started giving out crack pipes anyway. Isaac Jackson, the main organizer of the pipe handouts, estimates that every night, a handful of volunteers give away about 50 "crack kits" to people in the Tenderloin. Those kits include clean glass tubes, wooden "pushers" to move rock about in the pipe, plus alcohol wipes "for sanitation," VICE reported.
Cops interviewed by VICE said that they'd rather be doing anything than arresting the folks giving away pipes. When contacted for comment, a DPH spokeswoman said she hadn't heard that the pipe giveaways had begun.
So there you have it: Another interesting excuse to chill in the Tenderloin.