HHS Sec. Becerra says crack pipes won't be distributed using federal funds in smoking kits

White House seeks to advance ‘racial equity’ with crack pipe distribution

Criminal defense attorney David Bruno and former U.S. attorney Harry Litman discuss the government’s harm reduction grants that would distribute crack pipes to ‘underserved’ communities on ‘Fox News @ Night.’

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department will not use federal money to provide crack pipes to vulnerable communities, the Biden administration indicated on Wednesday.

In a press release, Becerra and Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Dr. Rahul Gupta said the administration was “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.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra answers questions at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2021. 
(Greg Nash- Pool/Getty Images)

The statement comes amid a media firestorm and congressional scrutiny over smoking kits that would reportedly include crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia. Initially reported by the Washington Free Beacon, HHS sought to fund the distribution of those kits while placing an emphasis on underserved communities. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday the reporting was inaccurate and that crack pipes were never part of the smoking kits. The Free Beacon claimed, however, to have spoken with a HHS spokesman who confirmed that crack pipes and other paraphernalia would be part of the kits.

Gupta and Becerra noted that they would continue to use harm reduction strategies like providing clean syringes.

“The goal of harm reduction is to save lives,” Becerra and Gupta said. “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.”

A man holds a crack pipe at the "safe injection site" near Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto on May 28, 2018.
(Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

The grant document references Biden’s executive order 13985, titled “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” 

The order defines “equity” as “the consistent and systematic fair, just and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

HHS initially cast doubt on the Beacon’s reporting, calling it “blatant misinformation” while defending harm reduction strategies. However, it didn’t explicitly deny plans to fund crack pipe distribution.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., gave HHS until March 1 to clarify whether the Biden administration is, in fact, authorizing the distribution of drug paraphernalia.

“Government-funded drug paraphernalia is a slap in the face to the communities and first responders fighting against drugs flowing into our country from a wide-open southern border,” Blackburn wrote. “If this is the president’s plan to address drug abuse, our nation is in serious trouble.”

Fox News’ Jon Brown contributed to this report.

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