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The Biden administration said it wouldn’t fund efforts to distribute free pipes to drug users after Republican lawmakers railed against the idea.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) threatened Wednesday to prevent quick passage of a short-term government funding bill unless she gets firmer assurances that federal funds aren’t being used to buy drug paraphernalia.
Several conservative media outlets reported that the Biden administration would buy and distribute “crack pipes” as part of a harm-reduction program.
“U.S. taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund vending machines for crack pipes,” Blackburn said in a statement Wednesday.
Government funding is set to expire Feb. 18. Blackburn’s hold will prevent senators from quickly passing a funding extension by unanimous agreement, instead requiring the bill to compete for time on the chamber’s busy calendar.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also this week decried the notion of distributing pipes to drug users.
No funds will go toward buying pipes, the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a joint statement Wednesday.
“HHS and ONDCP are focused on using our resources smartly to reduce harm and save lives,” they said. “Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
The program would focus on “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,” HHS’s Xavier Becerra and ONDCP’s Rahul Gupta said.
`’Safe Smoking Kits’
The articles claiming the Biden administration wanted to distribute pipes refer to a notice of funding opportunity from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That application included “safe smoking kits/supplies” on a list of possible activities grantees could receive funding for.
The federal government has some longstanding prohibitions on distributing drug paraphernalia, restrictions that limit the scope of some harm reduction programs.
President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget called for more than $10 billion to “support research, prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services” among other initiatives.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can currently fund harm reduction services, but that money can’t be used to purchase needles or syringes, the agency says in guidance for grantees. Any paraphernalia for drug use can run afoul of federal drug laws, the agency warns.
The substance abuse administration closed the grant opportunity Monday and hasn’t awarded funding through it, according to the grant notice.
Blackburn in a statement said the administration’s assurances “mean nothing given that the HHS-approved FY 2022 Harm Reduction Program Grant specifically allows for government-funded smoking kits.”
She wants HHS to reissue the notice of funding opportunity to remove such language.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at email@example.com