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Crack pipe vending machines pop up in Vancouver

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They look and operate just like any other vending machine — insert money and take away your purchase. The only difference? These sell crack pipes.

"Vancouver is home to Canada's first ever crack pipe vending machines. A drug treatment center installed them in an effort to reach hardcore addicts and keep them off the street."(Via WPVI

The colorful, polka dot-covered machines are run by a Canadian nonprofit called the Portland Hotel Society. They sell the Pyrex pipes for just 25 cents each. (Via HLN)

According to the group, that easy availability is meant to reduce the harm caused by disease spread through broken and used crack pipes.

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Quoted by Fox News, the group's director says by buying pipes through the machines, users "don't run the risk of then sharing pipes, or pipes that are chipped or broken. Everything from flu, colds, cold sores, HIV ... there are risks there."

And there is some evidence that their methods are working to reduce those risks.

As New York Daily News reports, "A study released last year by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found overall drug use in Vancouver declined in the years since groups began distributing free pipes."

While a piece from The Atlantic points out the reinstitution of a free needle exchange in Washington, D.C., resulted in an 80 percent decrease in newly diagnosed cases of HIV.

Still, the country's government is opposing making crack pipes and drug paraphernalia more readily available — at least partially because crack cocaine possession is, obviously, illegal.

National Post quotes the country's public safety minister saying, "This government supports treatment that ends drug use."

The government has also tried to shut down similar initiatives in the past.

As CTV reports, it shut down a safe-needle injection site in Vancouver back in 2008. That site was later reopened after a Supreme Court ruling.

According to the group behind the vending machines, it would like to spread the idea to other cities in Canada. They say the machines sell out nearly every week.

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