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Monday, September 27, 1999

Some turning novelty item into crack pipe

Police want stores to stop selling glass tube roses

By Heather Howard


David Pellerin/Caller-Times
Police have found that some drug users construct crack pipes out of a novelty glass tube (left), which can be bought at convenience stores, and pieces of a copper scouring pad.
   Corpus Christi police are worried that some convenience store customers are buying more at the corner store than the customary cookies, candy and chips.
   Some convenience stores in the city also offer one-stop shopping for items that police say can be used to make crack pipes - devices used by drug addicts for smoking crack cocaine.
   The chief component of the do-it-yourself crack pipe is a small glass tube sold as a novelty item, said Sgt. Chris Hooper, who has worked with citizens groups in the past to try to get stores to stop selling the products.
   The tubes are about four inches long and contain a small artificial rose - an item that has become a telltale sign of crack usage in drug dens, Hooper said.
   Rick McMinn, the manager of the Chevron gas station and convenience store on Leopard Street, said his shop has never sold the tubes.
   But the store could do a brisk business in the products if it stocked them, he said.
   "People come in and ask for them at least every day - sometimes two or three times a day," he said. "They ask for a glass tube with a rose in it."
   Larger convenience store chains don't typically sell the tubes, Hooper said. And many mom-and-pop shops have pulled the items after police or residents have told them they can be used as drug paraphernalia.
   In some convenience stores, however, the glass tubes are kept behind the counter near boxes of scouring pads. Customers in some places must ask for the items because they're hidden from view, police said.
   Typically, a shopper can buy the glass tube, copper pad and cigarette lighter for less than $4.
   During a sweep of abandoned houses that are scheduled for demolition, police found a pipe that had been made out of one of the tubes, Sgt. Henry Mangum said. Tire gauges and pieces of radio antennae are more popular means of smoking crack and frequently are found scattered throughout crack houses, Mangum said. But the glass tubes also often show up in places where drug users gather, he said.
   "We went through some crack houses that we're tearing down, and we found a flower in one of those houses," he said. "
   Crack smokers use the vials by putting a piece of copper scouring pad in the end of the tube to filter and help heat the drugs, and then inhaling the filtered smoke through the other end of the tube.
   Police have seen the tubes and flowers turn up in crack houses recently, and they're trying to raise awareness about the tubes so store owners will take them off their shelves. Police also want citizens to put pressure on stores not to sell the products and to keep an eye out for the devices in neighborhood stores.
   "I think it's just something most people don't know about," Hooper said.

Staff writer Heather Howard can be reached at 886-3767 or by e-mail at

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