Crack pipe dispenser in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside drawing controversy

What is being offered at two locations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is drawing controversy.

The Portland Hotel Society is dispensing crack pipes from machines in a Drug Users Resource Centre on Cordova Street, and at a convenience store it operates nearby on Hastings Street.

One pipe costs 25 cents, and the idea behind the initiative is to prevent the spread of disease.

While critics say the machines are sending the wrong message and enabling users, those dealing with drug addicts say they are saving lives.

“It keeps people safe,” said Mark Townsend, executive director of the Portland Hotel Society. “It save money in the long run. Every HIV infection can cost between 200 to 1.5 million dollars. So this initiative is part of trying to stem the flow of HIV, stem the flow of AIDS.”

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David Berner, executive director of the Drug Prevention Network, called these vending machines a “pernicious, vicious, ugly, evil mistake.”

“But we shouldn’t be surprised, even though we are, we’re horrified.”

The crack pipe dispensers are believed to be the first in Canada. The Portland Hotel Society stresses that the places where the machines are set up are not supervised injection sites, but they have been extremely popular.

WATCH: Mark Townsend talks with Scott Mclean on BC1 about the machines:

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