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With fentanyl deaths soaring, L.A. County is giving out drug pipes and other supplies

By a line of ragged RVs slung along 78th Street in South Los Angeles, a seven-member team passes out glass pipes used for smoking opioids, crack and methamphetamine. clean needles, sanitary wipes, fentanyl test strips and naloxone,

Yvonne Espinosa, 56, receives a bag of supplies from outreach worker Paulina Rubio, right. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

The pipes that have people arguing.

“Harm reduction” supplies keep drug users alive and safe from infection and transmission of diseases and the pipes help them switch from injecting to the relatively safer route of smoking drugs.

Such giveaways are also aimed to build trust with users who might want drug treatment down the road. It’s like a business card saying, ‘When you want hope, come to me,’” said Chris Mack, a longtime outreach worker

But the pipes tap a nerve, Skid Row, residents say harm reduction hasn't worked, and they see the pipes as hurrying homeless people along to their destruction.

The pipes are the big draw in harm reduction distribution.

“Those are the crowd pleasers,” said Sandra Mims, a community health worker

The kits include three glass pipes, with design variations to accommodate Meth pipes are called “pookies” and crack pipes “straight shooters.” Some pipes come with lollipops for dry mouth.

Most people with substance abuse disorder live on the county’s general relief, about $220 a month, Mims said, and even a $10 pipe is a stretch.

At a backstreet once known as “Murder Alley,” a line of aging crack users sat on chairs along the wall. Juanita Richardson, 61, shuffled up on a walker to the outreach team.

“I want everything you guys have,” she said. “This fentanyl, it’s nothing to laugh at.”

Richardson is on methadone and said she doesn’t use illicit drugs every day. She planned to sell the supplies: $10 for a pookie, $2 for a rig or syringe and $5 for a crack straight shooter, she said. Which is fine, said Oscar Arellano, program manager for the HOPICS team. The point is to get the protection into the community.

“They’re the first responders,” Arellano said. “We’re not condoning. We’re supporting.”

Gale Holland


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