Trust Index: Does White House plan to battle opioids involve ‘smoking kits’ that contain pipes?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s two U.S. senators are moving quickly, filing a bill they call the CRACK Act.

The Cutting off Rampant Access to Crack Kits (CRACK) Act is legislation designed to prohibit the use of federal funds for distributing pipes. It comes in response to a White House plan aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic.

“This is insanity,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, says in a video he posted. “This isn’t even about Liberal (versus) Conservative any more. This is about crazy versus normal, insane versus common sense.”

Rubio posted the 30 second video denouncing the Biden administration, claiming the White House plan would send pipes into underserved communities.

“I know that sounds insane. I know that sounds too crazy to be true. They confirmed it yesterday. They call them smoking kits and they say it’s about equity,” Rubio says. “But they have in essence confirmed that they are going to be mailing and sending pipes that can be used to smoke crack and meth to underserved communities in America.”

Rubio doesn’t want taxpayer money used by nonprofit agencies without guardrails.

He and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, and 14 others filed a bill to prohibit any money in the American Rescue Plan from purchasing, supplying, or distributing crack pipes or similar drug paraphernalia.

The Health and Human Services Department has a nearly $30-million plan called the Harm Reduction Program.

Critics claim it will distribute pipes or establish centers where addicts could legally use drugs that are otherwise illegal and use them under medical observation or care.

Is that true?

The White House says, no.

We pulled the transcript of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a briefing Tuesday.

She was asked if crack pipes were going to be part of the “safe smoking kits” in the program, and said, “They were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting. And we wanted to put out information to make that clear.”

When asked what was in the safe smoking kit, Biden’s spokesperson replied: “A safe smoking kit may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”

She added, “I would note that what we’re really talking about here is steps that we’re taking as a federal government to address the opioid epidemic, which is killing tens of thousands -- if not more -- Americans every single day, week, month of the year.”

Psaki was then asked if the administration supports any effort to distribute drug paraphernalia, to which she responded: “The statement makes clear that we don’t support federal funding, indirect or direct, for pipes.”

Conservative lawmakers across the country have jumped on the claim about crack pipe distribution.

The Department of Health and Human Services denies the claim, calling it “blatant misinformation.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote in a statement to Fox News that the Harm Reduction Grant is “a grant program designed to help Americans who are struggling with substance use stay health and safe, prevent overdose death, and find pathways into evidence-based treatments.”

The American Medical Association endorses harm-reduction measures like safe syringe exchanges and drug testing kits.

Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, issued a response that the alliance said is to the “HHS and Office of National Drug Control Policy’s statement that they will no longer be allowing federal funding to go towards putting pipes in safer smoking supplies.” The response (in full here) reads in part:

“Backtracking on providing critical evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who consume drugs through smoking is a huge missed opportunity that will disproportionately be felt in Black and Indigenous communities, especially as these communities have experienced some of the sharpest increases in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine.”

It adds, “Harm reduction works to meet people where they are at, and keep people free of diseases and alive so they have a chance of recovery and healing.  We applaud the Biden administration for the steps they have taken to advance harm reduction and advocate for the funding needed to supply needed resources and save lives, but they must stand firm against misinformation and continue the course to deploy all evidence-based solutions, including all forms of safer smoking supplies, to save lives now.”

Wednesday, the HHS sent out a release saying, “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 need for something to fight back against the opioid epidemic is clear. Just under 7.5% of every overdose death in the country happens in Florida. The death rate for overdoses is 23% higher than the national rate.

To the question of does a White House plan to battle the opioid epidemic involve sending “smoking kits” that contain pipes into underserved communities? We rank this claim: “Be careful.”

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

What is the Trust Index?

Questions remain, including if the kits may have initially intended to include pipes or if they may include something not commonly referred to as a “crack pipe.”

As noted in a report by the Washington Post, on Wednesday, HHS did not answer a question from the Post about whether the kits could include glass stems.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident & broadcast news producer who's been reporting & writing for nearly a decade here at The Local Station.