Why the Biden Administration Wants to Hand Out 'Safe Smoking' Kits

The Biden administration will provide grant funding to pay for the distribution of safe smoking kits as part of efforts to reduce harm from substance abuse over the next three years.

A number of conservative news outlets reported that the administration would fund the distribution of crack pipes for drug users as part of a push to advance racial equality.

"They were never part of the kit. It was inaccurate reporting," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

Safe smoking kits are one piece of equipment on a list of 20 items the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) outlined on the grant application for its harm reduction program. The primary purpose of the program is to reduce the risk of infection among drug users.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Dr. Rahul Gupta from the Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a statement explaining the proposal.

"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."

Secretary Becerra clarified, "no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the HHS, issued a Notice of Funding for the 2022 Harm Reduction Program Grant on December 8, 2021.

The deadline for applications was February 7, 2022—which may explain why it has been the subject of recent reports.

The 75-page application, which is still available to read online, explains that eligible applicants for the grant include state, local and tribal governments, as well as tribal organizations and community-based organizations, among others.

"The purpose of the program is to support community-based overdose prevention programs, syringe services programs, and other harm reduction services," the document said.

The funding will be used for prevention activities to "help control the spread of infectious diseases and the consequences of such diseases for individuals with, or at risk of, developing substance use disorders (SUD)."

One of the requirements for recipients of grant funding is to purchase "equipment and supplies to enhance harm reduction efforts." The application lists 20 examples.

These includes the "Safe smoking kits/supplies" that have been the focus of some recent articles regarding crack pipes. Other items on the list were infectious disease testing kits, safe-sex kits, including PrEP resources and condoms, syringes "to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases" and screening for infectious diseases.

The grant information does not mention pipes as part of safe smoking kits or specify what those kits should contain. HHS has now made clear that pipes will not be included.

However, pipes can sometimes be included in safe smoking kits, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Though the overall purpose of the program is harm reduction and not racial equality, applicants who are granted funding will "be expected to develop a behavioral health disparity impact statement no later than 60 days" after the funding is awarded.

One part of this impact statement is showing the number of people who will be served during the grant period and identify under-resourced populations such as racial, sexual, gender and ethnic minority groups.

"The priority populations for this program are underserved communities that are greatly impacted by SUD," the HHS document said and went on to say that underserved communities are defined by Executive Order 13985.

In that executive order, issued on January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden said "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."

The HHS document estimated that a total of just over $29 million in funding would be available over a three year period and awards of grant funding should be made from May 15, 2022.

UPDATE 02/10/22 07.15a.m. E.T.: This article was updated to include more information about safe smoking kits.

Correction, 2/9, 7:30 p.m. The original headline on this story inaccurately said the administration planned to hand out crack pipes. The story has also been updated with additional context including a statement from HHS.

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the coming retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 27, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Biden administration is providing more than $29 million in grant funding for substance abuse harm reduction. Drew Angerer/Getty Images