Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver councillors will not state a position on whether a supervised crack cocaine smoking facility should open in the city. Vision Coun. Kerry Jang said the party's caucus discussed the issue but more information is required about what prompted a recent call by research scientists for such a facility.
Jang was referring to a study published last month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that revealed a spike in HIV rates among the city's crack smokers. The researchers recommended opening a supervised inhalation room and conducting a scientific trial to see if HIV rates would decrease. Dr. Perry Kendall, the province's chief medical health officer, supports the recommendation.
"Right now, our position is until we know the mechanism [through which crack smokers are contracting HIV], there's no decision on it," Jang said. "We've discussed it in caucus and I've discussed it with the mayor and city manager. All of us agree, until we know the mechanism, we can't have a position."
Researchers tracked 1,048 crack cocaine users over a nine-year period and found that 137 became HIV positive. The reason for the increase is not definitive. But researchers, which included the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said disease transmission could be attributed to wounds produced around the mouth when smoking crack from a pipe.
Jang said if the sole goal is to reduce HIV rates among crack smokers, an "easier solution" would be a crack pipe exchange similar to a needle exchange. Clean kits for smoking crack and condoms would be available and clients would have access to nurses, counsellors and outreach workers. "You could achieve the same results without the controversy of having a safe inhalation site," said Jang, noting he's heard from people who oppose an inhalation room. "I heard from Chinatown on this and they don't like it."
Jang spoke to the Courier after attending a press conference Tuesday in which Dr. Evan Wood and colleague Dr. Thomas Kerr of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS presented a wide-ranging report on the drug situation in Vancouver. Wood also led the study that revealed the spike in HIV rates among crack users. He repeated his call Tuesday for a scientific trial of an inhalation room.
He pointed to research in the United States that showed a high number of people incarcerated for cocaine offences who are not receiving treatment. He noted the so-called "war on drugs" in the United States and in Canada has done nothing to stem the flow of drugs. Wood suggested he could buy drugs in less than 10 minutes of walking outside the Carnegie Centre, the location of the press conference.
"You look at what we're seeing in Canada and Vancouver with the rise of crack cocaine use and all the public order and social problems associated with that...I don't think it's such a crazy thing to advocate for a scientific evaluation of such a program."
Wood said research showed a ten-fold increase in the use of crack cocaine in the past decade in Vancouver. Crystal methamphetamine use has increased, particularly among street youth. Injection rates, meanwhile, have decreased.