Update: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement on Feb. 9 saying, “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
Original article below.
The Biden administration is to grant $30 million over the next three years in an effort to address drug use and overdose issues, intending to distribute smoking kits and syringes to addicts as part of the program.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency under Health and Human Services (HHS), will distribute $10 million per year over the next three years for a harm reduction grant program. The agency said the program is “unprecedented” and “the first-ever.”
According to the program (pdf), grant funds “must be used primarily to support the following required harm reduction activities,” including purchasing equipment and supplies such as “safe smoking kits/supplies” and “syringes to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases.”
Other harm reduction equipment and supplies include infectious disease testing kits, overdose reversal medication, and safe sex kits.
SAMSHA said in awarding the grants, it would prioritize funding for programs that address the needs of underserved communities as defined by executive order 13985 (pdf), one of the first signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office.
It defined underserved communities as those denied “equity,” or the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including black, Latino, other persons of color; LGBTQ+ persons; and persons adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
Applicants could be state, local governments, non-profit organizations, and primary and behavioral health organizations, with the deadline 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 7.
The program was announced last December by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, who said at the time that “harm reduction services are critical to keeping people who use drugs alive and as healthy as possible.”
“Americans deserve health services that address the full range of drug use and addiction issues, and this funding will help provide those services in the neighborhoods in which they live,” Becerra added, noting that for the first time, overdose deaths in the United States exceeded 100,000 over a 12-month period.
Distributing smoking kits among addicted people has been controversial, with supporters saying it would reduce the risk of transmitting diseases between people who share pipes. Opponents say they could enable drug use.
San Francisco and Seattle have distributed smoking kits for years. The San Francisco Health Department said the department supports “evidence-based harm reduction” and city funding “goes to staff and programs—not supplies.”
Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, told The Washington Free Beacon that the government should focus on preventing drug abuse rather than making it safer.
“If we look at more of a preventive campaign as opposed to an enabling campaign, I think it will offer an opportunity to have safer communities with fewer people who are dependable on these substances,” Boatwright said.
Last year, Anne Arundel County in Maryland distributed crack pipes in Annapolis and Brooklyn, a neighborhood in Baltimore, causing backlash from local African American leader Carl Snowden.
“Absolutely dumbfounded,” Snowden, the chairman of African American Leaders of Anne Arundel County, told FOX Baltimore. “It was inexcusable, unacceptable.”
Snowden said he received a call from a recovering addict, who got a smoking package at home.
“When the health department is giving people these crack pipes purportedly because it is out of concern for their health, its having an unintended consequence,” said Snowden. “It’s really compounding and exacerbating the problem.”
The county health department later stopped the program, admitting it “hadn’t put enough thought” into it.
An HHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email that the grant offered by SAMHSA and authorized by the American Rescue Plan is “designed to help Americans who are struggling with substance use stay healthy and safe, prevent overdose death, and find pathways into evidence-based treatments.”
“Like all programs that use federal funding, these grants must adhere to relevant federal, state, and local laws or regulations,” the spokesperson added.