In recent days, a debate has surfaced between The Washington Free Beacon and the Biden administration, regarding the accuracy of a claim made by the media outlet that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could have paid for crack pipes to be distributed to drug addicts as part of a “Harm Reduction Program.”
In order to determine whether the Biden administration’s program would have or could have allowed for crack pipes to be distributed, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on February 9.
Here is everything you need to know about the “crack pipe” saga:
February 7 — Deadline for Harm Reduction Program grant applications
Applications were due on February 7, 2022, for Harm Reduction Program grants through the HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“The purpose of the program is to support community-based overdose prevention programs, syringe services programs, and other harm reduction services,” the program explains. The estimated total funding available is $29.25 million over 3 years, with an estimated 25 awards of up to $400,000 per year available. Projects have an anticipated award date of May 15, 2022, and an anticipated start date of May 30, 2022.
Equipment and supplies to “enhance harm reduction efforts” are listed to include “safe smoking kits/supplies,” and “syringes to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases.”
“Harm reduction programs that use federal funding must adhere to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and other requirements related to such programs or services,” the program added.
February 7 — The Washington Free Beacon Report
The Washington Free Beacon first published an article titled, “Biden Admin To Fund Crack Pipe Distribution To Advance ‘Racial Equity.’”
“The Biden administration is set to fund the distribution of crack pipes to drug addicts as part of its plan to advance “racial equity,’” the article claimed. According to the outlet, they confirmed with a spokesman for HHS that “smoking kits/supplies” would — at least in part — “provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.’”
February 8 — Snopes Fact-Check
Fact-checking organization, Snopes, published a fact-check titled, “Did Biden Admin ‘Fund Crack Pipes’ To ‘Advance Racial Equity’?” The article initially determined that the claim, “[i]n early 2022, the Biden administration endeavored to advance racial equity by distributing crack pipes to drug users,” was “Mostly False.”
This rating was based on the argument that while “[i]n 2022, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services substance abuse harm reduction grant did require recipients to provide safer smoking kits to existing drug users,” and that “[i]n distributing grants, priority would be given to applicants serving historically underserved communities,” this program was “just one of around 20 components of the grant program and far from its most prominent or important one, despite being the primary focus of outraged news reports.”
“The purpose of the program was to reduce harm and the risk of infection among drug users, not to advance racial equity, although that was a secondary consideration,” Snopes added.
Snopes then updated the fact-check with the rating, “Outdated,” because of a later stipulation by HHS that “federal funding would not be used to include pipes in safe smoking kits.”
February 8 — Lead Stories Fact-Check
Facebook fact-checking partner, Lead Stories, then published a fact-check titled, “Fact Check: Biden Administration Is NOT Funding ‘Crack Pipes, Heroin’ For Drug Use.”
The fact-check included an email to Lead Stories from a HHS spokesperson, who described the crack pipe claim as “misleading and misinformed”:
“Evidence-based community harm reduction services such as naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and syringe services programs help people stay alive and are proven strategies for addressing this tragic epidemic. The Harm Reduction Grant Program offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is designed to put these services within reach for Americans who are struggling with substance use so they can stay healthy and safe, avoid overdose death, and find pathways into evidence-based treatments.”
The fact-check referenced Sarah Lovenheim, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS. She responded to Sec. Marco Rubio’s February 8 comments, describing them as “blatant misinformation.”
“The Harm Reduction grant is designed to help folks struggling with substance use stay healthy and safe, prevent overdose death. The grants must stick to federal, state, local laws or regs,” she tweeted.
Blatant misinformation. The Harm Reduction grant is designed to help folks struggling with substance use stay healthy and safe, prevent overdose death. The grants must stick to federal, state, local laws or regs. https://t.co/HXRCrEM3tD
— Sarah Lovenheim (@HHS_Spox) February 8, 2022
Later that afternoon, Lovenheim refuted the claims again, this time responding to Sen. Tom Cotton.
“To be clear: HHS is not distributing crack pipes. The grants fund harm reduction efforts by organizations, in full adherence of state and local laws,” Lovenheim tweeted.
To be clear: HHS is not distributing crack pipes. The grants fund harm reduction efforts by organizations, in full adherence of state and local laws. https://t.co/mCHlh5sqPf
— Sarah Lovenheim (@HHS_Spox) February 8, 2022
February 9 — HHS press release
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta released a statement:
“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.”
February 9 — Jen Psaki rejects report
Speaking with reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki refuted the accuracy of the initial report.
“HHS just put out a statement clarifying around some of the reports that crack pipes are not going to be part of the safe smoking kits funded by the administration,” Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich asked. “But can you clarify for us, were they never a part of the kit, or were they removed in response to this reporting and this pushback?”
“They were never a part of the kit. It was inaccurate reporting and we wanted to put out information to make that clear,” Psaki responded.
Psaki then went on to state that “[Safe Smoking Kits] may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”
Psaki on @PatrickHauf's @FreeBeacon story about crack pipes: "They were never a part of the kit. It was inaccurate reporting and we wanted to put out information to make that clear." pic.twitter.com/4oUBM9MQQ7
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) February 9, 2022
February 9 — The Washington Free Beacon doubles down
On the evening of February 9, The Washington Free Beacon reported on the events listed above, following their initial article.
“An HHS spokesman initially confirmed to the Free Beacon that the kits provided through the grant program were designed to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, as well as ‘any illicit substance,’” The Free Beacon reiterated. “After publication of a report on the funding, HHS backtracked in a Tuesday statement that labeled the story ‘blatant misinformation.’ When asked to explain what part of the story was incorrect, a spokesman said the story is ‘misleading and misinformed’ but declined to provide any information to refute the report.”
The report also noted that the Harm Reduction Grant program document does not explain what is and is not included in a funded “smoking kit.”
“[A]n HHS spokesman told the Free Beacon that it “does not specify the kits’ elements” but “only the parameters,” the outlet added. “The stated parameters in the government grant are any ‘equipment and supplies’ that ‘enhance harm reduction efforts,’ and ‘smoking kits’ are included as eligible equipment.
“Unsafe smoking practices can lead to open sores, burns and cuts on the lips, and can increase the risk of infection among people who smoke drugs,” said HHS spokesman Chris Garrett, according to the Free Beacon. “Safe smoking kits have been identified to reduce the spread of disease.”
February 9 — Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted
The core issue at the center of this story is whether or not the initial claim — that the Biden administration’s Harm Reduction Grant program would have or could have allowed for crack pipes to be distributed — is true.
The Washington Free Beacon has defended their initial report, in which they claim an HHS spokesperson admitted that the program would “provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.’”
This clearly conflicts with the latest messaging from the Biden administration, including the February 9 press release and the comments made by White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
In order to determine whether crack pipes were explicitly or implicitly permitted as part of this program prior to the Washington Free Beacon report, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was submitted on February 9.
This asked the Department of Health and Human Services — Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide “[a]ll internal and external communications from January 20th, 2021 until present (including memos and emails)” which mentioned any of the following:
- Pipe or pipes
- Glass pipe or glass pipes
- Crack, crack cocaine, or crack pipe
- Smoking kit
- Harm Reduction Program grant.
Last night, I submitted an FOIA request to find out the truth.
Here's a brief timeline of this issue: pic.twitter.com/Bm4Hm4SGLa
— Ian Haworth (@ighaworth) February 10, 2022
When a response is received, an update will be provided.
Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.