Harm reduction — which is extremely crucial right now — is being boiled down to “handing out free crack pipes.”
Some Republicans are getting their star-spangled undies in a bunch after recent reports claimed that the Biden administration is using our taxpayer dollars to fund crackpipes. Yes, you heard correctly. That’s the phrasing some conservatives are using to describe what is actually a crucial push in public health that we’ve needed for quite a while. Biden’s new harm reduction program aims to prevent deaths at a time when more than 100,000 Americans are dying from drug overdoses each year — most of them accidental.
Last month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) received $30 million for a grant program that will fund the distribution of fentanyl testing kits, HIV prevention services, opioid reversal medication, syringe exchanges and “safe smoking supplies” around the country. After an article prematurely reported that the grant would distribute crack pipes, Republicans began a crusade against it.
Per The Independent, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wrote a letter saying that it was “a slap in the face to the communities and first responders fighting against drugs flowing into our country from a wide-open southern border,” because she also needed to work in a sprinkle of racism into her fake outrage.
While I’m not completely surprised by this Republican response, it’s clearly just more of the same, migraine-inducing virtue signaling. We get it: Drugs are bad. But Republicans seem to think that people that do them are also bad and don’t deserve our help managing substance abuse, an actual illness. What’s interesting, though, is that they didn’t seem to care much about this grant a month ago, before a conserative media outlet found a way to spin this and make it seem like Biden’s goal is to encourage, somehow, more crack use in America.
Fear mongering via the crack pipe narrative is an American tradition with deep roots in anti-Blackness. A prime example of this is that conservatives don’t seem nearly as upset about the syringe exchange program, which the grant also proposed. I can’t help but feel like they’re just trying to play on this image of a Democrat-run American welfare state where people of color run rampant, puffing drugs into the faces of white children.
Second, in case they haven’t noticed, we’re balls deep into an opioid crisis and millions of people are already taking hard drugs. Ignoring the fact that many Americans have addictions and choosing to call drugs (and Mexicans, for some reason) “evil” achieves absolutely nothing. It never will. The sooner Republicans stop pretending that they care about people who do drugs and their families, the sooner we’ll be able to implement policies that reduce the very real harms of addiction.