If you spent anytime online this week, you may have seen a lot of fury over a federal government plan to spend millions of dollars on pipes for smoking meth and crack cocaine.
“Biden crime policy: Crack pipes for all. What could go wrong?” tweeted Senator Ted Cruz.
“The Biden administration is going to be sending crack pipes and meth pipes, targeting minority communities,” said Senator Marco Rubio in a video message. “I know that sounds insane, I know that sounds too crazy to be true.”
Well, you know what they say about things that are too crazy to be true.
Several months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a federal grant for “harm reduction” for local organizations involved in reducing the risk for drug use. Most of those funds will be spent on things like referrals for treatment, disease-testing kits, condoms, vaccinations and overdose-reversing drugs like naloxone.
It’s true that a small part of that fund could be allocated for drug paraphernalia like clean needles. Such resources are intended to protect people who use drugs from the dangerous and potentially deadly risks associated with drug use. Glass pipes associated with smoking crack cocaine are not on the list, but Harm Reduction International lists things like rubber mouthpieces, brass screens and disinfectant wipes as part of what are called “safe smoking kits.”
The Washington Post spoke with Keith Humphreys, an addiction researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. He said harm reduction kits like this can save the lives of people struggling with drug addiction. “Obviously, we would like everybody who is addicted to never use drugs again,” he said. “But if we can’t have that, we should be grateful to at least reduce use or reduce the damage of use to that person or to the people around them.”
The White House said none of the funds will be used for pipes, denying accusations to the contrary in a statement. “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 said the harm reduction kits will include “alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”
It’s the latest skirmish in the partisan battle over the best way to tackle the nation’s opioid crisis. 100,000 Americans died of a drug overdose between April of 2020 and April of 2021, and the trend is only growing more dire. People can reasonably disagree about the right way to address the crisis, but flashy political talking points from either side aren’t going to do much for anyone suffering from withdraw symptoms. Addressing this crisis will take courage, compassion and honesty — all things in short supply on both sides of the aisle in our present political moment. But one small thing us non-politicians can do is refuse to buy into the partisan narratives and flashy political marching orders that might score points for your party of choice, but do very little to help the real people caught up in the opioid epidemic.