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Health officers still trying to define Whistler’s cocaine problem



Whistler has a cocaine problem but it is still unclear whether its users are injecting or inhaling the drug, according to the medical health officer for the region.

The patterns among drug users will start to become clearer once the Whistler needle exchange program is up and running and frontline workers can get more feedback from the users.

"I would say it's easier to buy cocaine in Whistler than buying alcohol, meaning you can buy it 24/7. That's the case in Powell River, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast and I can't see it being any different in Whistler," said Dr. Paul Martiquet.

Martiquet says there has been an epidemic of IV drug use in the province in recent years and as the numbers injecting cocaine increase, so do the health risks.

Injection users are at more risk of contacting Hepatitis C or B or HIV than other types of cocaine users.

"I would rather people be smoking cocaine than injecting it," said Martiquet.

"The health risks of cocaine use are less with inhalation as opposed to injection."

Over a four-year period (from 1996-2000) there were 103 new cases of Hepatitis C in the Sea to Sky Corridor, in addition to six new cases of HIV. Most of these cases are thought to be as a result of sharing needles through drug use.

While there are fewer health risks associated with smoking cocaine, crack is still a serious problem in the corridor.

Crack is processed with ammonia or baking soda and water and heated to remove the hydrochloride.

It is called crack because of the crackling noise that is made when the mixture is heated.

"Crack is a problem in Squamish and Whistler," said Martiquet.

"There is no question, to my knowledge, there is a very significant crack problem."

Over the past three years Martiquet said there have been at least four cocaine-related deaths in the Coast Garibaldi region.

As a result of the crack problems on the Sunshine Coast, the Harm Reduction Program there has been handing out crack kits over the past six months.

The safe-use kits include crack pipes, vitamins, condoms and educational material.

It is believed the clean pipes will stop the spread of infectious diseases because a lot of crack users get mouth sores and the blood left on the pipe can be transferred.

"Hepatitis C is an epidemic so we're just trying to think of anything to stem it," said Charlotte Mallory, program manager of the Action Society in the Sunshine Coast.

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