A harm reduction campaign by Homeless Healthcare in Los Angeles has stirred up controversy by handing out clean pipes for users to smoke methamphetamine. Critics say with the distribution of these supplies, many addicted people won’t ever make it off of Skid Row, choosing instead to live comfortably. Harm reduction advocates say, however, that times are changing, and harm reduction only seeks to save lives.
How Meth Pipes Can Prevent Harm
The harm reduction efforts occur primarily in the city’s Skid Row area. The volunteers ride through on golf carts, helping hand out clean pipes to addicted persons. They say their work is as essential as naloxone and other programs that target opioid users.
After all, fentanyl and other contaminants have shown up in methamphetamine and could easily kill users if they’re opioid-naïve.
“A lot of people compare it to clean needle programs,” Paul, a healthcare worker who helps with the program, told the Globe. “You get the wrong pipe, or reuse one someone else had, or something similar, and that can be death. There could be enough fentanyl in there left over to cause an overdose, or it could spread Hepatitis C or HIV. So new pipes being handed out corrals that.”
Critics Say New Pipes Aren’t Needed
Critics say that new pipes aren’t so essential. Unfortunately, many meth-addicted persons carry their own, and they are relatively cheap or easy to purchase at smaller convenience stores or gas stations.
Residents say that passing out pipes only encourages people to get high. Enabling people to smoke meth will kill people, according to one man living in the area. Other people complain about broken glass on the street, saying it would be more helpful to homeless residents to offer them food and water rather than a means to continue getting high.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that methamphetamine-related overdose deaths increased by 717% between 2008 and 2018. The department estimated that approximately 13,000 people in Los Angeles County were experiencing homelessness and struggling with substance abuse, including methamphetamine addiction, in 2020. Fentanyl has only escalated this crisis, contributing to meth-related deaths. It is increasingly found as an additive in meth overdoses, and most meth users have no idea they’ve been using it.
More resources for helping addicted persons seek treatment, especially medication-assisted treatment, are ultimately needed to help address the addiction epidemic.