TRUST INDEX: Are federal dollars funding clean crack pipes for people with addiction?

$30 million grant authorized by the American Rescue Plan

TRUST INDEX: Are federal dollars funding clean crack pipes for addicts?

SAN ANTONIO**Editor’s Note: This article has been supplemented with new information.

The Biden administration has created a multi-million dollar grant program geared towards reducing drug harm and saving lives.

Our KSAT Trust Index Team received a question from a viewer asking if a portion of that money is going towards crack pipes. We initially marked that claim as “true” on our KSAT Trust Index, but now, we’re saying “be careful” with that claim.

The Harm Reduction Program Grant offers $30 million in funding to prevent drug overdoses and help control the spread of infectious diseases. The money will go to education, counseling, treatments and supplies. But after it was widely reported that some of the money could go to pay for drug pipes, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and ONDCP Director Rahul Gupta released a statement on Wednesday saying, “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”

In addition to providing funding for prevention programs, education, and counseling, here is what the Harm Reduction Program Grant says about what could be covered in the efforts to reduce harm from drug use:

  • Harm reduction vending machine(s), including stock for machines;
  • Infectious diseases testing kits (HIV, HBV, HCV, etc.);
  • Medication lock boxes;
  • FDA-approved overdose reversal medication (as well as higher dosages now approved by FDA);
  • Safe sex kits, including PrEP resources and condoms;
  • Safe smoking kits/supplies;
  • Screening for infectious diseases (HIV, sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis);
  • 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.

Some safe smoking kits provided by non-profit organizations do include glass pipes used for smoking drugs.

One local nonprofit official said while they haven’t received any grant money from the federal government, these kind of programs actually save lives.

“Less use, less burning, less spread of disease. That is what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Gavin Rogers, executive director for Corazon San Antonio, a nonprofit that provides support for the marginalized and those struggling with homelessness.

Rogers said the clean needles, pipes and outreach are all evidence-based approaches that work.

“It is critical. This is (a) life-saving measure,” Rogers said. “A holistic harm reduction program is more than just needle exchange and cooking kits. It’s about policy and advocacy. It’s about street outreach. It’s about case management and getting people into homes, and it’s about peer recovery, counseling and education to educate those clients in safe use, but also ways and forms of recovery.”

Corazon San Antonio’s Harm Reduction Team is made up of seven staff members.

“We were gifted with a wonderful grant through the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing,” Rogers said. “More programs (like these) and more money is needed to help clients, not only in Bexar County but throughout Texas that have issues of drug dependency.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the grant program will benefit nonprofits and local governments to make drug use safer for those struggling with addiction. It is also designed to prevent deaths and reduce health risks linked to drug use.

“Safe pipes are to keep people from spreading other harmful diseases around the community and to other clients,” Rogers said. “So, those safe smoking kits are designed (to help stop) the spread of harmful disease.”

In a press release, the White House said, “At a time when overdose deaths, driven primarily by illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs, have reached a record high, the Biden-Harris Administration took action through its first-year drug policy priorities to significantly expand access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services, as well to reduce the supply of illicit drugs like fentanyl.”

It is against the law to sell or distribute drug paraphernalia however, there’s an exception if authorized by the government. At the end of the day, experts and community outreach workers said the goal is to aid in the treatment and recovery of addicts.

Here is the full statement from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta:

“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.”

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About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.