Report of crack pipes appearing in smoking kits reignites controversy on whether they receive federal funding
A conservative news outlet’s latest report on crack pipes in so-called “safe smoking kits” that may receive Biden administration grant funding set off a wave of criticism of earlier reports that batted down the notion that the kits included such pipes.
The Washington Free Beacon reported in February that the Biden administration would fund the distribution of crack pipes through a $30 million Health and Human Services grant program that reimburses local governments and entities that provide safe “smoking kits,” in the name of advancing racial equity and safer drug use for addicts. The grant specifically denotes “smoking kits/supplies” as among equipment to enhance “harm reduction efforts.” Other components of the program included “syringes, vaccinations, disease screenings, condoms, and fentanyl strips,” according to the Beacon.
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At the time, the Free Beacon cited a HHS spokesperson who told the outlet the smoking kits would provide users with the ability to smoke “any illicit substance,” including crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The story also noted existing smoking kit programs in cities such as San Francisco, Annapolis, and Seattle all include smoking pipes.
A pipe for crack cocaine use, a needle for heroin use and a pipe for methamphetamine use are shown at the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, the nation’s largest needle-exchange program, in Seattle, Washington.
(Picture taken April 30, 2015. To match Feature USA-DRUGS/SEATTLE REUTERS/David Ryder)
The story came back to the forefront this week when the Free Beacon’s Patrick Hauf reported Thursday that he’d visited harm-reduction organizations in five East Coast cities – New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, and Richmond, Va. – and found all of them included crack pipes in their so-called safe smoking kits. It did note that the organizations it investigated had not said whether they would apply for the HHS grant program, whose recipients will be announced on Sunday.
Conservative figures like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., radio host Dana Loesch, and Republican chairwoman Ronna McDaniel jumped on the new story.
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“In Joe Biden’s America, it is easier to get a crack pipe than to find baby formula,” McDaniel tweeted. Others blasted news outlets that took the Free Beacon to task at the time for its initial reporting and the subsequent firestorm.
In February, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki flatly denied the Free Beacon’s story, calling it “inaccurate” and that crack pipes were “never” a part of smoking kits. An HHS spokesperson called the story “blatant misinformation,” although a subsequent statement from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the administration was “focused on using our resources smartly to reduce harm and save lives. Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The use of the word “accordingly” sent up some red flags; Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler at the time wrote the language offers “no suggestion that the original reporting on crack pipes was wrong. The use of the word ‘Accordingly’ suggests a change in policy without directly saying so.” He provided an update to his February report to acknowledge the Free Beacon’s recent reporting.
Kessler’s colleagues, however, appeared more confident in debunking the Free Beacon’s report declaring in a Washington Post headline, “No, the federal government isn’t spending $30 million on ‘crack pipes.'”
Many other fact-checkers and news outlets similarly repeated the Biden administration line and attacked the Free Beacon.
“What’s inside a safe smoking kit to stop opioid overdose? No, it’s not a crack pipe,” USA Today reported.
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The report asked at one point, “So what exactly is in these kits?” Its answer was to quote Psaki, who said at a briefing, “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.” It also cited the HHS in its report.
The left-wing fact-checking outlet Snopes admitted at the time “safe smoking kits” were part of harm reduction supplies and were a “very small part” of the program, yet declared the report “mostly false” and was part of “grossly misleading news coverage.” It then changed its ruling to “Outdated,” citing the HHS statement that pipes would no longer be used in safe smoking kits. A separate fact-check from “Lead Stories,” which was co-founded by a Democratic political donor, was used by Facebook to flag the Free Beacon story as misinformation.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said "no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits."
(Shawn Thew/Pool via AP, File)
A CNN fact-check declared the Biden administration was not “funding crack pipes,” writing, “It’s not true that tax dollars are currently being used for a ‘crack pipe fund.’ While HHS and the White House have since said they never planned to include pipes in the kits, the parameters for the grant did not explicitly state that. Furthermore, previous reports on harm reduction have noted that safer smoking kits often do include glass stems or pipes.”
A Reuters fact-check ruled the story “false,” as did the Daily Beast, which declared fact-checkers had “laid it to rest.”
Yet in the Daily Beast’s own story, it linked to non-governmental organization Harm Reduction International’s list of typical items in smoking kits, which included “glass stems.”
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In correspondence reviewed by Fox News Digital at the time, Hauf specifically asked HHS spokesman Christopher Garrett if the kits were “intended to help users reduce risk when smoking crack and meth.”
“I wouldn’t limit to those two substances. It would reference any illicit substance,” Garrett replied.
Also at the time, Hauf pointed to the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance reacting with outrage at the HHS’ announcement in February about no longer putting pipes in safe smoking kits. It “appears to have been under the impression that the HHS program would provide crack pipes,” he tweeted.
At Thursday’s press briefing, Psaki reiterated that “no federal funding has gone to it” and that HHS policy “does not allow crack pipes to be included.”
“I would just note that this is a bit of a conspiracy theory that’s been spread out there. It’s not accurate,” Psaki said.