White House disputes reports of federal funds for crack pipes
The Biden administration on Wednesday pushed back on what it called “misinformation,” saying a federal grant program meant to reduce harm to drug users does not include taxpayer funding for pipes that can be used to smoke crack or meth.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put out a statement clarifying “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters at a briefing that reports that crack pipes would be included in the safe smoking kits being distributed as part of the program were inaccurate.
“Even though this has never been a part of what’s been funded, we felt it was important to put out a public statement from the federal government to make that clear because we saw the spreading of misinformation and the fact that it was having an impact on a range of communities,” Psaki said. “And we felt, even though it was never true, that we needed to put out a proactive statement.”
Psaki said the safe smoking kits being distributed as part of a $30 million harm reduction program might include materials such as alcohol swabs, lip balm, clean syringes and other materials intended to promote hygiene and reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
“I would note that what we’re really talking about here is steps we’re taking as a federal government to really address the opioid epidemic, which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, Americans, every single day, week, month of the year,” she said.
The grant program through HHS funds safe smoking kits and supplies that could be purchased for communities trying to address the opioid epidemic in ways that might reduce the risk of spreading disease among users. The Associated Press reported that the grant solicitation did not specifically mention the inclusion of pipes for smoking, though such materials can be part of safe smoking kits.
Reports circulated on Fox News and other conservative outlets that the grant program was being used to fund “crack pipes,” however, and the narrative quickly spread among conservative lawmakers.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra expressing concerns about providing crack pipes, and she has tweeted multiple times about the issue this week.
“End government-funded crack pipes,” Blackburn tweeted on Tuesday.
“Will you have to show your vaccine passport to get your crack pipe?” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted mockingly.
“There is no end in sight for this lunacy,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in response to the reports.
HHS spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim called Rubio’s comments “blatant misinformation,” adding that the grants “must stick to federal, state, local laws or regs.”
Rubio on Wednesday welcomed the comments from the White House about the program and said he would introduce legislation in the coming days “to make sure this program can never pay for crack pipes.”
Updated at 5:39 p.m.
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