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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Ban Federal Funds From Distributing Crack Pipes

‘We need to do more, but sending drug paraphernalia to addicts is not the answer,’ said Senator Rubio

On Friday, Senators Joe Manchin and Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill blocking federal funds from buying and distributing tools used to take illegal drugs, like crack pipes and syringes.

The Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems Act, or PIPES Act, was announced in a press release.

“Every American and West Virginian has been impacted by the drug epidemic that has killed over 101,000 Americans from April 2020 to April 2021,” Manchin said. “While this is a heartbreaking issue that must be fully addressed by the federal government, using taxpayer funds to buy paraphernalia for those struggling with substance use disorder is not the solution.”

The press release said the PIPES Act would prohibit federal funds from being utilized to buy needles or syringes to inject illegal substances. 

The bill also maintains that federal funds can’t buy or distribute pipes used for smoking illegal drugs.

The bill comes after the Department of Health and Human Services announced a $30 million grant for harm reduction services and kits that focus on averting overdose deaths and reducing the health risks of drug use. The safe drug use kits often include sterile syringes, safe-smoking kits, and overdose-prevention kits. The focus is to prevent overdose and the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been a primary resource for researching and developing such kits, with extensive studies in the crack cocaine crisis in Mexico. The focus of the studies has been the reduction of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission. In the government-funded study, the U.S. government’s distribution of safe smoking kits in Mexico reduced health risks. In the study, the reduction of disease transmission was linked directly to the distribution of smoking pipes and hypodermic needles. 

According to Harm Reduction International, safe smoking kits include smoking pipes, a rubber mouthpiece to prevent cuts and burns, brass screens to filter contaminants, and disinfectant wipes. They often use an alternative to glass pipes, such as brass, to reduce the risk of glass breaking, creating wounds, and raising the risk of blood-borne disease transmissions. 

The U.S. government’s disclosure that it was issuing $30 million to aid in distributing safer use drug kits drew significant criticism from conservative media and other legislators. 

“Biden crime policy: Crack pipes for all. What could go wrong?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted.

In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, U.S. Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana called the plan “stupidity.” 

“There’s no safe way to use crack cocaine and meth. Sooner or later, it kills you. Why aren’t we spending this money to get people off the illicit drugs,” Kennedy said. 

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded, saying that crack pipes were “never a part” of the safe smoking kits. She said such kits may include “alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”

Also, on Wednesday, HHS issued a statement that said: “No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”

Before introducing the PIPES Act, Manchin and other senators sent a letter to HHS asking about the grant program. The letter states that some harm reduction groups include pipes in their safe smoking kits, citing two Canada-based groups, Toward the Heart and Interior Health. The letter also pointed out that the HHS grant does not explicitly prohibit the funds from being used to distribute crack pipes.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with addiction, and unfortunately, many have lost a loved one from the disease,” said Senator Rubio in Friday’s press release. “Addiction is crippling, not only for the individual, but also for the family and communities throughout our country. We need to do more, but sending drug paraphernalia to addicts is not the answer.”

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