Controversy has exploded about claims being made on the right that the federal government was pushing a grant plan that was going to spend $30 million on “harm reduction” for drug addicts. Handing out clean syringes and alcohol swabs has been done for years — with mixed results. But this program was going to try and reduce injury and death from smoking drugs like crack.
The story in the Washington Free Beacon on Monday was straight reporting with very little commentary. The headline read: “Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity” and contained this quote from “an HHS official.”
A spokesman for the agency told the Washington Free Beacon that these kits will provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and “any illicit substance.”
HHS said the kits aim to reduce the risk of infection when smoking substances with glass pipes, which can lead to infections through cuts and sores. Applicants for the grants are prioritized if they treat a majority of “underserved communities,” including African Americans and “LGBTQ+ persons,” as established under President Joe Biden’s executive order on “advancing racial equity.”
Were pipes really to be included in the “smoking kits”? The way the story is written it would certainly suggest that’s the case.
But the White House is strenuously denying the idea that they’re going to give glass crack pipes to addicts.
“HHS and ONDCP are focused on using our resources smartly to reduce harm and save lives. Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta said in a statement. “The goal of harm reduction is to save lives.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also on Wednesday dismissed a report as “inaccurate” from the conservative outlet Washington Free Beacon that an HHS spokesperson said the White House would be distributing crack pipes.
“We wanted to put out information to make that clear,” Psaki said. “The safe smoking kit may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler cleared up some of the controversies by posting the email communications between Patrick Hauf, the Free Beacon reporter, and the media office at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an arm of HHS. The media relations aide, Christopher Garrett was the responder.
Hauf wrote that he had watched a webinar about a $30 million harm reduction grant program and asked: “One of the listed types of equipment qualified to be purchased with grant money is ‘safe smoking kits/supplies.’ Could you please specify what these kits are and how they can help with harm reduction in communities?”
After several hours, a SAMHSA spokesman, Christopher Garrett, responded with a statement, which he said could be attributed to him by name.
Here’s the full statement:
Unsafe smoking practices can lead to open sores, burns and cuts on the lips, and can increase the risk of infection among people who smoke drugs. Safe smoking kits have been identified to reduce the spread of disease. The proposal of using grant funds to purchase supplies for safe smoking kits must be justified by Harm Reduction Program applicants as to how they contribute to preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases in the Harm Reduction Grant application. Harm reduction programs that use federal funding must adhere to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and other requirements related to such programs or services.
SAMHSA does not specify the kits’ elements, only the parameters.
Given the lack of truth coming from the White House press room, it’s easy to doubt the veracity of anyone commenting on this story. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe the Free Beacon’s interpretation, given the radicalism of Biden appointees in every agency at every level.
Giving crack pipes to addicts in safe smoking kits is perfectly believable when you listen to some of the people applying for these grants. Sheila Vakharia is an expert at the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Harm reduction as a practice and as a philosophy is all about helping people make informed and safer decisions,” Vakharia said. “It’s about saying, ‘This is a place where we accept you for who you are and here are the tools for you to help stay safe while you’re smoking, and in addition, we’ve got condoms, and we can teach you about identifying someone overdosing, and here’s naloxone.’ ”
Instead of explaining how the story is “misinformed,” perhaps Psaki could explain why and how an HHS press flunkie confirmed a bombshell report about the administration buying crack pipes for addicts.
Clearly, HHS spokesman Garrett did not explicitly claim that HHS was buying crack pipes for addicts. But why include a glass stem in the kit? Smoking kits “can include glass stems, rubber mouthpieces, brass screens, lip balm and disinfectant wipes,” according to a 2019 paper issued by Harm Reduction International. For those uninitiated in the ways of crack cocaine smoking, a “glass stem” can easily be used as a pipe since crack is sold in small rocks. Stuff the rock in one end of the glass pipe and light it while tilting the stem slightly upward and breathing in, and presto! You have a crack pipe.
But because the kit doesn’t identify it as a “crack pipe,” HHS can get away with claiming they won’t include crack pipes in the smoking kit.
The sort-of fact-checking site Snopes swallowed everything the White House said about the issue and judged the report “outdated,” which means:
“…items for which subsequent events have rendered their original truth rating irrelevant (e.g., a condition that was the subject of protest has been rectified, or the passage of a controversial law has since been repealed).”
In other words, the White House explained everything and they’re satisfied—because the White House never lies about anything, right?
PolitiFact rated the story “mostly false” for pretty much the same reason.
HHS does not specify what constitutes a “safe smoking kit,” but the fact that most grantees will receive a glass stem in their kits should rate the story as “mostly true” in my book.