By Harm Reduction Educators Steff Pinch and Marissa Martins
Many community health centres that serve people who use drugs distribute harm reduction kits. One example of these kits are “stem” kits, also known as crack kits. These kits are available for free and are meant to give folks safe, sterile supplies to reduce infection transmission, health complications, and injury associated with drug use.
A stem kit, or a safer crack smoking kit, generally contains the following:
1. One or several high grade Pyrex stems
The stem is used to channel the vapor from heated crack into a person’s mouth. High quality glass conducts heat more evenly is less likely to explode or cause burns. Stems do not release toxic fumes like aluminum cans or plastic pipes.
2. Brass pipe screens and push sticks
Safer than steel wool, brass screens are less likely to come loose and become lodged in one’s throat or mouth. The screens act as a barrier, this allows crack vapor to be inhaled without inhaling bits of the heated crack. The screens are packed and positioned with a dowel (push stick or chop stick) instead of a metal stick (which can chip the stem) or a material that may melt and cause noxious fumes (like plastic). The push sticks can also be used to scrape crack residue from the inside of the pipe.
3. Rubber mouthpiece
A bit of rubber tubing affixed to the end of the stem (where the individual places the pipe in their mouth) prevents burns and oral abrasions. As glass can get quite hot, the rubber acts as a buffer. Rubber mouthpieces are also an easy way for folks to identify their stem and stick to their own if using drugs in a group. Mouth pieces can be different colours or have a marking to make it easier to identify whose is whose, making it easier to avoid a mix-up and potential infection sharing.
4. Safer sex supplies
Crack-cocaine can amplify sexual desire and drive. When folks have readily available safer sex supplies, they are more likely to use them. This reduces the likelihood of STIs and transmission of infections.
Where to access safer drug use kits in the GTA:
There are locations in the GTA that offer safer drug use kits. Look for organizations that list “Safer Smoking Supplies”.