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• Conservative commentators have accused the federal government of spending $30 million to provide Americans with “crack pipes.”
• The assertion stems from a federal “harm reduction” grant to prevent injury and death among people addicted to drugs. The grant allows recipients to provide such items as testing equipment for sexually transmitted diseases and overdose reversal medication, along with “safe smoking kits” to curb the spread of diseases among users of smokable drugs.
• However, the kits would not include crack pipes, and the kits as a whole would cost far less than $30 million, which is roughly the amount the government would spend on all elements of the grant-provided supplies and services.
Conservative commentators recently set off a firestorm by accusing the federal government of spending $30 million to provide Americans with pipes to smoke illicit substances, including crack cocaine.
"The Biden Administration cut funding for monoclonal treatment of COVID but is spending $30 million on crack pipes," former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer wrote on Twitter on Feb. 8.
"Biden crime policy: Crack pipes for all. What could go wrong?" tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
"Biden is sending free meth & crack pipes to minority communities in the name of ‘racial equity,’" U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., posted on the platform. "There is no end in sight for this lunacy."
Rubio later introduced a bill called the Cutting off Rampant Access to Crack Kits (or CRACK) Act, to "prohibit any funds from directly or indirectly purchasing, supplying, or distributing crack pipes or similar drug paraphernalia."
These claims contain elements of truth, but they leave out significant context, due in part to evolving messaging by the Biden administration.
The uproar stemmed from a Washington Free Beacon report about a Department of Health and Human Services "substance harm reduction grant" that had been announced earlier. "Harm reduction" is a policy initiative that seeks to reduce injury and death from drug use while accepting, at least in the short term, that people may continue using drugs.
The Feb. 7 story was headlined, "Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity.’"
The story quoted an unnamed spokesman for HHS saying that the program would "provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.’"
HHS soon pushed back against the report. Spokesperson Jorge Silva told PolitiFact that the mention of crack pipes went beyond the information the department gave the reporter.
The HHS program was designed to provide tools to minimize drug use risk, including money for testing equipment for sexually transmitted diseases, overdose reversal medication, and medication lock boxes. But the grant program would allow the distribution of "safe smoking kits," and that phrase made the grant program go viral. Smoking kits typically contain disinfectant wipes, rubber mouthpieces to prevent burns and cuts, and brass screens to filter out harmful contaminants.
Silva said HHS told the Free Beacon that "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 response said.
HHS’s response continued, "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. (The agency) does not specify the kits’ elements — only the parameters."
In introducing his CRACK Act, Rubio cited the Free Beacon’s reporting, saying it "appeared to confirm that part of the $30 million grant program would go toward ‘smoking kits/supplies’ which frequently includes crack pipes."
PolitiFact reached out to Spicer for evidence that the administration is spending $30 million on crack pipes. We did not hear back. The Free Beacon did not respond to a request for comment.
The original 75-page grant proposal document from HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration does not mention crack pipes.
The grant would pay up to $9.7 million per year, or $29.2 million over a three-year period. The purpose of the program, according to the document, is to support community-based overdose prevention programs and other harm reduction services.
"Safe smoking kits/supplies" is one of 12 categories of items and services that would be permissible under the grant, along with infectious disease testing kits, medication lock boxes and disposal kits, overdose reversal medication, condoms, fentanyl test strips, syringes, vaccinations, and first aid supplies.
Suggestions that the government is "spending $30 million on crack pipes" are wrong even beyond the question of whether the grants involve the distribution of crack pipes. That’s because $30 million is roughly the amount of all the possible grants collectively, and smoking kits would account for a small fraction of that.
In a Feb. 9 briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki leaned into the distinction between the inclusion of smoking kits in the grant, which she indicated was accurate, and whether those kits contain crack pipes, which she said was not.
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," Psaki said. She added, "We don't support federal funding, indirect or direct, for pipes."
A joint statement from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta echoed Psaki’s message. "No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits," the statement said.
More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021, according to federal statistics.
"In many parts of the country, smoked drugs are now involved in the majority of drug overdoses, notably fentanyl and methamphetamine," said Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist with the Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "Yet we don’t have the robust harm reduction tools like we do for those who inject drugs."
Banta-Green said there is an "important role for safer smoking supplies in reducing substance-related harms in the short term and in providing services that engage people who use substances so that they can connect to other services when they are ready."
Spicer and other conservative commentators claimed that the Biden administration is spending $30 million on crack pipes.
The assertion stems from a federal "harm reduction" grant to prevent injury and death among people addicted to drugs. The grant allows recipients to provide such items as testing equipment for sexually transmitted diseases and overdose reversal medication, along with "safe smoking kits" to curb the spread of diseases among users of smokable drugs.
However, the kits would not include crack pipes, and the kits as a whole would cost far less than $30 million, which is roughly the amount the government would spend on all elements of the grant-provided supplies and services.
The claim contains an element of truth, but it leaves out significant context. We rate it Mostly False.
Sean Spicer tweet, Feb. 8, 2022
Marco Rubio tweet, Feb. 8, 2022
Ted Cruz, tweet, Feb. 8, 2022
Washington Free Beacon, Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity’, Feb. 7, 2022
Marco Rubio, news release on the CRACK Act, Feb. 10, 2022
Harm Reduction International, Harm reduction for stimulant use briefing paper, April 2019
Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration FY 2022 Harm Reduction Program Grant, Accessed Feb. 9, 2022
Jen Psaki, remarks at White House press briefing, Feb. 9. 2022
Health and Human Services, Statement by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and ONDCP Director Rahul Gupta, Feb. 9, 2022
Washington Post, "No money for drug pipes: Feds douse social media firestorm," Feb. 9, 2022
Washington Post, "100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 12 months during the pandemic," November 17, 2021
Snopes, Did Biden Admin ‘Fund Crack Pipes’ To ‘Advance Racial Equity’?, Feb. 8, 2022
Email interview with Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist with the Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Feb 10, 2022
Email interview with Jorge Silva, spokesperson for Health and Human Services, Feb. 8, 2022
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