Was the federal government really planning to give away $30 million worth of taxpayer-funded crack pipes?
No. But that didn’t stop The Washington Free Beacon from downloading a grant applicationposted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and publishing a Feb. 7 article claiming the Biden administration was “set to fund the distribution of crack pipes to drug addicts as part of its plan to advance ‘racial equity.’”
The Blaze, Fox News and other conservative media outlets amplified the juicy storyline, while Biden’s political foes piped up on social media. United State Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted that Biden’s crime policy includes “crack pipes for all.” United States Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) made it personal and asked whether Biden’s son Hunter – who has been public about his struggles with addiction – had “come up with this bullcrap.”
There’s no reference to crack pipes anywhere in the 75-page request for proposals that will fund a paltry 25 grant awards nationwide at $400,000 per year for three years. The program is designed to “support community-based overdose prevention programs, syringe services programs and other harm-reduction services” and prioritizes proven strategies for reducing the opioid overdoses that have killed more than 550,000 Americans over the last 20 years.
Food and Drug Administration-approved opioid-overdose medications like naloxone (a.k.a. “Narcan”) as well as medication lockboxes, sharps containers and test strips to detect fentanyl are all listed as acceptable purchases – but it was the mention of “safe smoking kits/supplies” that sparked the firestorm.
Safe smoking kits – sometimes distributed to active crack cocaine and meth users – generally contain alcohol swabs, lip balm and rubber pipe covers to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of expensive and hard-to-treat diseases (like HIV and hepatitis) via oral sores, cuts and burns. Sometimes, but not always, those kits include glass pipes, and the science on this is clear: Folks who receive clean, safe pipes report fewer health problems. And while neither is a great choice, many will switch from riskier injections to smoking if those pipes are available.
Politics often trump science, so nobody was shocked when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta doused the firestorm within 24 hours, pledging that “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
Fine. But here’s the inconsistency: Their statement also says that the Biden administration is focused on “prioritizing the use of proven harm-reduction strategies like providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips and clean syringes.”
Why are taxpayer-funded sterile syringes for injecting heroin, crystal meth or crack acceptable, but clean pipes as a vessel for the same drugs – ingested in, arguably, a less dangerous manner – are not? A mountain of data confirms that both unequivocally save lives, reduce disease transmission and lower healthcare expenses.
That’s the essence of an evidence-based “harm reduction” approach that attempts to minimize the adverse consequences of drug use among those suffering from the stubborn disease of addiction.
Drug dependence and its associated behaviors can be irrational, complex and downright deadly as addiction professionals race against time to counsel, cajole and try to command those folks into limited treatment slots. That’s why as fentanyl deaths explode, Suffolk County lawmakers voted recently to make fentanyl test strips more accessible to residents being trained to administer the naloxone, which has already saved the lives of thousands of Long Islanders.
Meanwhile, the Town of Hempstead recently gave out its 10,000th Narcan kit – and perhaps fewer parents lost their kids to overdose as a result.
Though drug policy is nuanced and polarizing, most people – including most elected officials from both sides of the political aisle – understand that giving drug users the tools necessary to avoid life-threatening illnesses, medical complications and accidental overdoses isn’t tacit approval of their continued drug use.
Instead, it’s a heartfelt invitation to join the more than 22 million Americans who have resolved a serious drug or alcohol problem, and are now experiencing the miracle of recovery.
This article first appeared on InnovateLI