WASHINGTON (AP) — After snuffing out a social media storm, the Biden administration said Wednesday that a grant program to combat the harms of illicit drugs would not pay for safer pipes for smoking crack or cigar. methamphetamine.
The White House has been put on the defensive as outrage from the political right, some of it racially charged, mounts online.
“No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement to recipients to put pipes into safe smoking kits,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and drug policy adviser of White House Rahul Gupta in a joint statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said separately that there was never any question of paying for drug pipes, and complained that such an impression was created by “inaccurate reports “.
Monday was the deadline for service organizations and local governments to apply for a share of $30 million in federal funds for ‘harm reduction’ efforts to prevent illness, injury and other collateral trauma to addicts. illicit drugs. Harm reduction, such as providing a space where drug users can inject and be monitored in the event of an overdose, is a controversial idea. Critics see it as a way to promote drug use, but public health advocates say it’s a pragmatic approach to keep bad situations from getting worse.
The initial Request for Proposals for funding from the Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration lists “safe smoking kits/supplies” among the items that can be purchased with taxpayer dollars. They were among a dozen categories including overdose prevention drugs, drug safes, infectious disease test kits and syringe disposal containers. The grant application did not specifically mention pipes, although they may be part of safe smoking kits.
Daniel Raymond, policy director for the National Roundtable on Viral Hepatitis, said only a few programs in the United States have distributed safe smoking kits.
“None of this was done with federal funds,” Raymond said. “I feel very confident saying that. I would have known if that was true.
Nonetheless, reports that the Biden administration was using federal dollars to pay for “crack pipes” took off. Some Republican senators piled in, lambasting the administration.
Misleading claims about the HHS program dominated social media on Wednesday morning, with many conservative commentators and Republican politicians sharing memes and tweets that received tens of thousands of likes.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted: “Last week Biden talked about being tough on crime. This week, Administrator Biden announced funds for the distribution of crack pipes to “advance racial equity.”
Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee took to Twitter Tuesday night to say, “Stop government funded crack pipes.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called the alleged tip distribution “madness” in a video posted to Twitter, which had 245,000 views as of Wednesday afternoon. “The Biden administration is going to send out crack pipes and meth pipes targeting minority communities in this country,” he said.
Some social media users even went so far as to say that Biden and other Democrats were going to hand out crack pipes during Black History Month.
“Joe Biden is handing out crack pipes to help ‘racial equity’… during Black History Month,” Errol Webber, black Republican candidate for California’s 47th congressional district, said on Twitter. “No, I’m not kidding. No, I’m not lying. That’s what he thinks of our community.
HHS spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim tweeted that such reports were “blatant misinformation,” and at the White House briefing on Wednesday, Psaki said paying for the pipes was never part of the plan. .
“They were never part of the kit,” Psaki said. “It was inaccurate reporting and we wanted to release information to make that clear.”
Late Wednesday, Rubio issued a press release saying, “I’m glad the Biden administration recognizes that sending crack pipes to drug addicts in our country is a bad idea.”
Harm reduction advocates feared the blast would hamper efforts to bring drug users out of the shadows.
Leo Beletsky, a law and health sciences professor at Northeastern University School of Law, said he was disappointed with the White House’s response.
“This administration has repeatedly said that it makes harm reduction one of its top priorities,” Beletsky said. “As soon as there’s a little backlash from the right-wing echo chamber against something that’s pretty solid and rooted in science, they backtrack. They put their tail between their legs and pedal backwards.
But administration officials Becerra and Gupta said they continue to support “proven harm reduction strategies like providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips and clean syringes.” HHS also pointed out that harm reduction grants must comply with federal, state and local laws, and that crack pipes are illegal in many jurisdictions.
Homemade pipes for smoking crack and meth can break easily or give off toxic fumes. For this reason, safer pipes can be one of the components of the kits.
But they can also include other supplies, such as alcohol wipes for cleaning hands or a pipe, or lip balm for cracked lips, Raymond said. Such distribution kits can be a way to start a conversation with addicts, perhaps pointing them towards change.
Associated Press medical editor Carla K. Johnson, Washington, contributed. Dupuy reported from New York.
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