WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is doling out $30 million worth of grant money to communities across the country to confront the overdose epidemic, which has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
The funding, which was announced and open for applications in December, is meant to increase access to harm–reduction services, preventing overdose deaths and minimizing health risks associated with drug use.
The plan has been met with controversy, with conservative outlets criticizing the distribution of “safe smoking kits/supplies,” which they claimed was tantamount to hand out crack pipes to the public.
“They were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing Wednesday. “We don’t support federal funding, indirect or direct, for pipes.”
More:Fact check: False claim that Biden administration is distributing $30M of ‘crack pipes’
So what exactly is in these kits?
“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,” Psaki said in a briefing Wednesday.
The kit is part of the Harm Reduction Grant Program offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The program’s purpose is to help American struggling with substance abuse avoid overdose death.
More:Adolescents and young adults lost more than 1.25M years of life to drug overdose deaths in a 4-year period, study finds
“No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits,” HHS secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of National Drug Control policy director Dr. Rahul Gupta in a joint statement to USA TODAY.
More than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the 12 months following the COVID-19 lockdowns, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a one-year span, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pandemic overdoses: Drug overdoses surged amid COVID lockdowns; more deaths in one year than ever before
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Approximately 40,000 Americans die every year with toxic levels of opioids in their body, a crisis exacerbated by a hard-to-detect synthetic version of the drug that experts warn is flooding the market and rapidly making its way into the hands of unsuspecting users.
Fentanyl – 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine – has become the leading cause of overdose deaths in America along with other synthetic opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of opioids if administered quickly enough, and it’s been distributed to patients using opioids for pain relief.
The initiative from HHS plans to provide naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and clean syringes, as well as go after violent criminals who are trafficking illicit drugs like fentanyl across US borders and into local communities, Becerra and Gupta said.
Contributing: Asha Gilbert, Ken Alltucker
Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her @michelle_shen10 on Twitter.