After the application deadline for a federal grant program aimed at decreasing harm for drug users passed, many Twitter users – including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) – and conservative media outlets such as the Washington Free Beacon claimed that President Joe Biden’s administration would put $30 million of funding toward the distribution of crack pipes in safe smoking kits.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced in December 2021 that it was accepting applications for the first-ever SAMHSA harm reduction grant program. The agency said it expected to issue $30 million in grant awards.
Viewer Kendra also texted VERIFY to ask if Biden is creating a $30 million program to distribute crack pipes.
Is the Biden administration funding the distribution of crack pipes?
No, the Biden administration is not funding the distribution of crack pipes. HHS and other federal representatives say crack pipes are not being added to safe smoking kits or distributed in any other way as part of harm reduction efforts.
WHAT WE FOUND
Funding for the harm reduction grant program is authorized by the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, according to SAMHSA. Applications from state and local governments, tribal organizations, nonprofits and behavioral health organizations, among others, were due Monday, Feb. 7.
A 75-page government document outlining information about the grant program says funds may be used to purchase “equipment and supplies to enhance harm reduction efforts,” including “safe smoking kits and supplies.”
Harm reduction strategies “minimize negative consequences of drug use,” HHS writes on its website. During a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the safe smoking kits may include alcohol swabs, lip balm and other materials to “promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases” such as HIV and hepatitis.
Claims that federal funding would support the distribution of crack pipes in those safe smoking kits are false, according to multiple representatives for the federal government.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta, M.D., said in part that “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
Sarah Lovenheim, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, also clarified that the federal agency “is not distributing crack pipes” in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon.
“The grants fund harm reduction efforts by organizations, in full adherence to state and local laws,” Lovenheim wrote.
Psaki also addressed the claims about crack pipes being put in safe smoking kits during the Wednesday press briefing.
“They were never a part of the kit. It was inaccurate reporting, and we wanted to put out information to make that clear,” she said.
She added that this is “not a change in policy” and federal authorities instead wanted to provide clarification on the “allowable uses” for the HHS harm reduction program.
The Washington Free Beacon article states that a spokesperson for HHS said safe smoking kits “will provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and ‘any illicit substance.’” HHS told VERIFY in an email that this is inaccurate.
Safe smoking kits are not the only harm reduction materials that grant recipients will be able to purchase. The document outlining the program also lists vending machines; testing kits for HIV and other infectious diseases; medication lock boxes; overdose reversal medication; safe sex kits; infectious disease screening; sharps and medication disposal kits; fentanyl test strips; syringes to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases; and vaccination services.
Though the government said pipes would not be included in the kits, other countries, including Canada, have designated pipes as “safer smoking supplies.” A document from Interior Health in British Columbia says glass stem crack pipes are a safer alternative to pipes made of plastic, soda cans or copper, which can release toxic fumes when they are heated or burned.
News outlets in Ireland also reported in January 2021 that Ireland’s Health Services Executive purchased and distributed almost 50,000 crack pipes since 2016 as part of that government’s “harm reduction strategy.”
VERIFY reached out to the US Department of Justice for clarification on the history and legality of distributing drug paraphernalia, such as crack pipes, as part of harm reduction efforts. We have not received a response at the time of publication.