San Francisco exploring crack pipe giveaways to slow spread of HIV


It sounds like somebody in San Francisco needs to put down the crack pipe themselves.

While the Mayor and Director of Public Health have both said many other things need to be looked at first to slow the spread of HIV, some are still exploring the idea or pushing for it:

Earlier, Tracey Packer, the director of community health equity for the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health, said the city of San Francisco may examine the idea. Packer oversees the city’s HIV prevention efforts.

“It is inaccurate to say we are ‘considering’ the program,” Packer said. “We are at the exploration point. We are looking at data and information.”

Crack pipe distribution programs have been successful in Canada, said Laura Thomas, a member of the HIV Prevention Planning Council (HPPC), the group that recently suggested San Francisco consider a similar program.


Why give out free crack pipes? Unlike used needles, which pierce the skin and can immediately infect someone who shares it, the sharing of crack pipes doesn’t have that same likelihood of physical contamination of HIV.

Instead, officials said, the main focus of this program would be as an outreach effort. Crack users are a population identified as at major risk to have HIV and they often become disconnected from medical services and stop taking their medicine.

“It may seem counter intuitive, but it’s a great program,” said Thomas.  “Once you can bring people into your program, make them feel respected, taken care of, then they’re more likely to come back and get on HIV meds and want to be engaged and taking care of their health.”

Thomas is also the Deputy State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. When we asked her about the inevitable negative reaction, she said it’s all part of a learning curve.


The HPPC has put together a study group to consider whether such a program would work in San Francisco. There is also a question of legality, considering crack pipes are considered illegal drug paraphernalia.

An official with the San Francisco Republican Party was critical of the idea.

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton

Jeff Quinton is an award-winning blogger who has been aggregating and blogging since 1998. He has worked as a reporter, in government, and as a communications professional in Columbia, SC and Washington, DC.

Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.

Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.
Jeff Quinton

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