Pubdate: Sun, 05 Sep 2004
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2004 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Tom Brodbeck


I finally got around to reading a so-called study on why giving out crack
pipes to crack addicts is a good thing to do.

Proponents of free crack pipe kits have been telling me for days -- since we
found out last month that government was providing users with tools to feed
their addiction -- that they have studies on the benefits of taking this

I kept asking for the studies because I wanted to read them for myself.

Too often when groups and organizations say they have "studies" to back up
what they're pushing, the studies are either bogus or they don't exist.

So I read one that was sent to me that was supposed to provide me with the
empirical evidence that I was looking for.

And, as suspected, the study I was given -- printed in the Harm Reduction
Journal -- is bogus.

It's called "Does harm reduction programming make a difference in the lives
of highly marginalized, at risk drug users?"

And while it has a lot of flowery academic language about "outcomes" and
"feelings," there is no data on whether the program lowered incidences of
Hep C or HIV or whether it led towards successful treatment, which is
supposed to be the benefit of this approach.

The study is flawed in a number of ways, including a high drop-out rate of
drug addicts who participated in the evaluation.

One phase of the study began with a sample of 261 drug users in the New York
City area and fell to 96 participants by the end of it.

As a result, any data coming out of that phase is skewed and almost
completely useless.

The study doesn't tell me if crack pipes or pamphlets were given out. It
doesn't tell me how many received clean needles, if they kept them, used
them, shared them, whatever.

It doesn't really tell me anything other than what some users perceive their
condition to be based on 10 indicators.

I want to see a study where they can show me how free crack pipes and how-to
pamphlets reduce the incidents of disease. This study doesn't show that. Not
even close.

In fact, the authors themselves admit that "almost no research has tried to
establish appropriate measures of harm reduction and evaluate its worth."

And "little empirical research has been made available to judge its merits."

So what we have is a lot of "we think this" and "we believe that."

And that doesn't tell me anything.

Also, what no one seems to have studied is what impact this has on users in
terms of encouraging drug use.

I want to see empirical evidence that it helps users, including preventing
the spread of disease.

But then I want to weigh that against how this tacit approval of doing drugs
"in a safe manner" (as if there's a safe way to smoke crack) encourages
people to keep doing drugs or even start experimenting.

Proponents of this method tell you that they're not encouraging people to do
drugs, they're just giving them survival skills.

But when I ask them, "how do you know you're not encouraging some of them?"
they say they don't know.

So then how do you know that you're not doing more harm than good?

They don't know.

This is what happens when social workers hijack the political process.

You get experimental public policy that is so out of whack with reality that
it becomes a laughingstock.

Governments accept the untested policies because they want to be "forward
thinking," whatever that means.

And the public gets really bad policy.

To date, I haven't heard from a single user, reformed or otherwise, who
thinks giving out free crack kits and how-to pamphlets is a good idea.

I've heard from many of them. And not one said this type of approach is

The people who claim it's beneficial are the ones in the health-care field
who like to think they're doing cutting-edge work.

This is "progressive," they say.


I say show me the evidence. Show me the money.

Show me how giving out crack pipes helps addicts.

Because so far, I still haven't seen a shred of evidence to back up that

I doubt I ever will. 
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MAP posted-by: Josh