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News Analysis Feb 9, 2022 10:19 PM EST

Biden admin, fact checkers busted lying about distributing crack pipes to drug users

Reporters for the Washington Free Beacon said that absolutely HHS told them crack pipes were part of the package.

Biden admin, fact checkers busted lying about distributing crack pipes to drug users
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

After Biden's Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines for how local agencies could access grants for "harm reduction," the Washington Free Beacon reported that crack pipes would be among those things that would be funded. The crack pipes would be part of safe smoking kits, the Free Beacon wrote.

On Wednesday, the White House contradicted the Free Beacon's reporting, saying that the safe smoking kits that could be paid for under the grant program did not contain crack pipes. The HHS, in their granting guidelines, did not specify that crack pipes were included in the kits, but in many safe smoking kits, pipes are included as part of the "harm reduction" strategy. Reporters for the Washington Free Beacon said that absolutely HHS told them crack pipes were part of the package.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the funding of crack pipes by the Biden administration via HHS, and said unequivocally that it was not true.

"They were never a part of the kit," Psaki said in response to a question on the matter. "It was inaccurate reporting. We want to put out information to make that clear." The reporter followed up to ask just what is in the "safe smoking kit," and Psaki said that it "may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis."

Psaki then defended the grants for "harm reduction," saying "I would note that what we're really talking about here is steps that we're taking as a federal government to address the opioid epidemic, which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, Americans, day week, month of the year. We put out the statement though, because there was inaccurate information out there—I should say HHS put out the statement—because there was inaccurate information out there and we wanted to provide clarification on the allowable uses for the HHS Harm Reduction Program."

She then emphasized that "It's not a change in policy. This program is focused on harm reduction strategies, including prioritizing these the fentanyl test strips and clean syringes. And all of these harm reduction services that will be supported by these programs are intended to save lives from an epidemic that we know is is devastating to communities across the turn." Psaki said that providing the means to consume drugs facilitates a reduction in harmful drug use and death. "We know they save lives," she said later.

When asked if the administration supports efforts to distribute drug paraphernalia, Psaki said that the program does not provide for the purchase of pipes, either directly or indirectly. It does, however, provide syringes. She also touted programs that create so-called "safe injection sites," where intravenous drug users can inject illegal drugs while being supervised.

"This is not a game. This is not a political game. This is an epidemic that is taking the life of a fight of an American every five minutes and we need to work in a bipartisan way to address it," Psaki said.

In response to that directive from the White House briefing room, the Washington Free Beacon's Patrick Hauf said that the outlet "confirmed the story with the HHS, provided context on the grant program beyond the crack pipes, and described how these 'smoking kits' have been implemented elsewhere."

Per Hauf, "HHS panicked after the story was published and claimed it was 'blatant misinformation.' Then came the fact checks. Then came the social media labels."

"So now," Hauf wrote on Twitter, "the federal government is denying pipes are in the 'smoking kits.' More than 48 hours after the story was published. I was previously told by HHS the kits are used to smoke crack."

The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, in their report on how to use crack in a safer manner, includes in their safer smoking kit a mouthpiece for a pipe, rubber bands, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, antiseptic towelettes, filters for the pipe stem, screens for the pipes, vitamins, and condoms. They suggest a glass or metal pipe to be used with the mouthpiece and advises users to smoke out of "straight glass shooters."

Interior Health Canada provides glass pipes as part of their safer smoking kits, for crack and meth smokers. Part of the reasoning of providing pipes is to prevent people from injecting the drugs. "Harm reduction" programs in Maryland received backlash after it was revealed that smoking kits included glass pipes. A Washington, DC bill allowed "to distribute harm reduction supplies such as safer smoking kits, safer snorting kits, and other infectious disease prevention harm reduction materials previously criminalized under DC law."

This program joins others that facilitate drug use by drug users by providing the means for them to use drugs. Safe injections sites have opened in many locations across the US, including in New York City.

Snopes "fact checked" the reporting by many outlets, saying that HHS issued a statement that "stipulated that federal funding would not be used to include pipes in the safe smoking kits to be distributed as part of a substance abuse harm reduction program." Snopes claimed that conservative news outlets "reported breathlessly that the Biden administration had plans to fund the distribution of crack pipes in order to advance the cause of racial equity."

Per the HHS guidelines, the list of "purchase equipment eligible under the program is extensive, and includes:

"Harm reduction vending machine(s), including stock for machines; Infectious diseases testing kits (HIV, HBV, HCV, etc.); Medication lock boxes; and FDA-approved overdose reversal medication (as well as higher dosages now approved by FDA)."

Also included are "safe sex kits," "safe smoking kits/supplies," infectious disease screening, as well as "Sharps disposal and medication disposal kits; Substance test kits, including test strips for fentanyl and other synthetic drugs; Syringes to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases; Vaccination services (hepatitis A, hepatitis B vaccination); and Wound care management supplies."

Snopes, in their "fact check," claimed that "It's important to note that safe smoking kits typically consist of several other items, including: a rubber mouthpieces for glass pipes, in order to prevent burns and cuts; brass screens, in order to filter out potentially harmful contaminants or debris; as well as disinfectant wipes. As such, they are a logical component of a broader substance abuse strategy of harm reduction."

Snopes also tackled the issue of racial equity, saying, essentially, that the Biden administration injects racial equity into all their programs, which is by design and per executive order, and means that if HHS complies with these rules per the order, their distribution will be done under racially equitable terms, and to serve underserved communities, which is the mandate from Biden for all federal agencies, including HHS and their granting programs.

As to racial equity, the HHS states that the program will maintain "behavioral health equity," which refers to the right to access quality health care for all populations regardless of the individual’s race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or geographical location. This includes access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services for mental and substance use disorders.

"Advancing health equity involves ensuring that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. In conjunction with quality services, this involves addressing social determinants of health (SDOH), such as employment and housing stability, insurance status, proximity to services, culturally responsive care – all of which have an impact on behavioral health outcomes.

"The behavioral health disparity impact statement is in alignment with the expectations related to Executive Order 13985 'Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.'"

That order, signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office on Jan. 20, 2021, reads that "the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.  

"Affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our Government.  Because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.

"By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone."

In this case, and under HHS, the opportunity that was created was for community agencies to obtain funding to facilitate "safe" drug use in their areas, through the use of paraphernalia designed to do just that, from safe smoking kits to syringes.

It is likely that HHS told the truth when they reported to the Washington Free Beacon that crack pipes would be part of the safe smoking kits, as pipes are regularly part of these kinds of kits. It is also likely that the White House, upon seeing this reporting and hearing from so many how absurd it is to give government money to fund drug use, urged HHS to walk that back, and issue a statement saying that they did not intend to include glass pipes in the safe smoking kits.

HHS said: "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. The goal of harm reduction is to save lives. The Administration is focused on a comprehensive strategy to stop the spread of drugs and curb addiction, including prioritizing the use of proven harm reduction strategies like providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and clean syringes, as well as taking decisive actions to go after violent criminals who are trafficking illicit drugs like fentanyl across our borders and into our communities. We will continue working to address the addiction and overdose epidemic and ensure that our resources are used in the smartest and most efficient manner."

Now, social media platforms are censoring and suppressing reporting from the Free Beacon simply because, two days after the fact, the White House didn't like the spin on their granting plans.

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