Manchin, Rubio: Just say no to federally funded crack pipe distribution

AP Photo/Matt York, File

Two bills were introduced in the Senate Friday that seek to stop government funding of programs providing drug paraphernalia through federal grants. In the House, two Republicans have introduced the ‘HUNTER Act’, a bill that also does the same.

It all began when the Washington Free Beacon broke a story about a new program at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide safe smoking kits to addicts in order to curb the spread of disease. It is touted as a racial equity program with a focus on minority addicts and those in the LGBTQ communities. As the story spread, some fact-checking began. Were crack pipes really going to be a part of the kits? Apparently, the answer depends on who you talk to. The HHS program is a $30M “Harm Reduction Program” grant, funded through the 2021 American Rescue Plan. It is separate from funding restrictions in other federal grants for syringe exchanges.

Mostly, it sounds as though HHS got caught expanding its efforts in offering help to drug addicts by way of offering paraphernalia that might help stop the spread of diseases. Sharing needles is the riskiest behavior that spreads disease. The glass pipes included in the smoking kits are meant to provide a safer alternative for drug addicts. HHS, though, and the White House, now deny that the pipes are included. Needles are still available from HHS.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are jumping in and trying to put the kibosh on taxpayer funding of crack pipes and other paraphernalia. Senators Manchin and Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill, The Preventing Illicit Paraphernalia for Exchange Systems (PIPES) Act. According to a press release, the government would be prohibited from purchasing syringes and needles to be used for illegal drug injection. The bill also dictates that federal funds can not be used to “procure, supply, or distribute pipes, cylindrical objects, or other paraphernalia that can be used to smoke, inhale or ingest narcotics, The bill states that government funding of paraphernalia should only happen in the case of “a considerable risk of an HIV outbreak or hepatitis infection due to drug use.”

“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 in the press release. “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.

Rubio also voiced his concern about the use of funds, saying that he does not believe financing the paraphernalia is “the answer.”

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with addiction, and unfortunately, many have lost a loved one from the disease. 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,” Rubio said in a statement, according to the release.

Rubio introduced a separate bill with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) called Cutting Off Rampant Access to Crack Kits Act, or the CRACK Act. It does not ban funding of syringes.

The bill introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (S.C.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) would amend Section 2706 of the Democrats’ $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to prohibit any funds from directly or indirectly purchasing, supplying, or distributing crack pipes or similar drug paraphernalia.

The bill simply reads: “Amounts made available under this section may not be used to procure, supply, or distribute pipes, cylindrical objects, or other paraphernalia that can be used to smoke, inhale, or ingest narcotics.”

For many politicians, syringes and needle exchanges are ok but glass crack pipes are a bridge too far. There is history of bipartisan support for needle exchanges to curb disease among drug addicts. Currently, thirty-eight states allow programs to give out clean needles to addicts. Republican governors like Ron DeSantis have signed legislation to allow syringe exchange programs, as have Arizona Governor Ducey, North Dakota Governor Burgum, and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. Holcomb criticized one Indiana county’s plan to close its program.

In the House, Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Dan Bishop of North Carolina introduced the Halting the Use of Narcotics Through Effective Recovery Act this week, known as the HUNTER Act, after you-know-who. They are more concerned about the possibility of eliminating the stigma of drug use. And, of course, the bill’s name is a chance to stick it to Biden and his son.

‘I like the HUNTER Act,’ Boebert said, ‘because it was a better acronym than Stop Paying to Subsidize Biden’s Son’s Drug Addiction act. That didn’t really flow. I think tax dollars have been on the hook for Hunter’s addictions long enough.’

Bishop said the bill would take aim at the federal funding of safe injection sites, needle trade-ins, and safe smoking kits. He said such programs try to ‘remove all stigma’ from drug use, when ‘actually stigma is not a bad thing.’

Liberal groups are not happy about what they describe as the administration caving to objections to crack pipes in the smoking kits.

The War on Drugs began in earnest during the Reagan years. Remember Nancy Reagan’s slogan for school children, “Just say no” to drugs? Since then billions of dollars have been spent yet, here we are. Drug use is at all-time highs in many communities. The Biden border crisis is enabling massive drug trafficking operations and the drugs not apprehended at the border then are distributed around the United States. If the problem was easily remedied, it would have been done already. There are so many factors that come into play with human beings, though, and addiction. I come down on the side of concentrating on increasing treatment opportunities over federal tax dollars going to enabling addicts in the name of proving humanitarian aid and curbing the spread of disease.