When I read that advocates in San Francisco were pushing the idea of handing out free crack pipes as a means of combating HIV, I was puzzled but not surprised.
Puzzled because I didn’t see how sharing a pipe would be likely to pass HIV. But having lived nearly 22 years in the Bay Area, nothing proposed here surprises me anymore.
Apparently, giving free crack pipes will show crack users that they are respected and, hence, make them more likely to accept social services. From the CBS San Francisco story:
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.
But when a city distributes free crack pipes, isn’t it saying there is nothing wrong with smoking crack? Why not skip the preliminaries and go straight to the crack? After all, SF prides itself on shattering traditional notions of respectability and moral judgments.
The proposal is not yet at the legislative stage, but I have seen this pattern before. The ground is definitely being softened.
Before you roll your eyes and chortle, remember this: What happens in San Francisco doesn’t stay in San Francisco.