No, the Federal Government Isn’t Giving Away Free ‘Crack Pipes’

There’s a false rumor circulating that the federal government is setting aside $30 million in funds to supply people with “crack pipes,” or mouthpieces that enable people to smoke crack cocaine. But where did this rumor come from? And what are the actual facts you should know about the federal program at the center of this firestorm? Keep reading to find out. 

According to the Washington Post, the controversy began when the Department of Health and Human Services announced a federal grant focused on community-based harm reduction services. The grant would allow organizations like support groups and local governments to receive part of a $30 million fund from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Applications were due by February 7. As the Washington Post explains, this is the first federal grant of its kind. 

The federal funds are designated for harm reduction efforts to reduce the illness, injury, and trauma that can stem from addiction to drugs such as opioids, which include fentanyl and heroin. Harm reduction is an evidence-based model for approaching substance use issues, according to the SAMHSA. It focuses on immediately reducing the risks and dangers of substance use, not necessarily reducing or stopping the substance use itself. (But, as the SAMHSA notes, harm reduction can serve as a pathway to eventual treatment and recovery.) 

Organizations receiving the funds would have three years to spend the money on a pre-approved list of harm reduction resources and activities. Per the SAMHSA’s harm reduction program grant outline, this could include things like overdose reversal medications, safe sex kits, and safe smoking kits. The safe smoking kits will not include “crack pipes,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who clarified the details in a press briefing on Wednesday. Instead, they will include materials like “alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis,” she noted. 

According to the Washington Post, safe smoking kits in general do sometimes contain “a rubber mouthpiece to prevent cuts and burns,” but they typically don’t include glass pipes due to cost. However, clean glass pipes can actually be useful from a harm reduction standpoint, the Post says—providing them may help cut back on pipe sharing, the transmission of oral infections, and the injection of drugs instead of smoking. Either way, based on Psaki’s statement, pipes will not be part of these federally funded kits. 

The harm minimization grant program comes after November 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, for the first time in history, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in a single year. Drug overdose deaths increased ​​28.5% between April 2020 and April 2021, according to the CDC report. Opioids were responsible for more than 75% of the fatal drug overdoses reported that year. This is a result of the highly addictive quality of these drugs. “As we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country,” President Biden said in a November 2021 White House statement.