Don’t Tell Marco Rubio, But Helping Addicts Stay Alive Isn’t The Same As Supporting Their Addiction | Columns | Tampa

Click to enlarge

Photo via Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA / CC BY-SA (

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks to supporters during the Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security Forum at the University of New Hampshire’s Pandora Building in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 21, 2016.

I’m taking a week away from the internet, and suddenly Russia is about to invade Ukraine, Donald Trump has taken top secret documents with him to Mar-a-Lago, Canadian truckers are crazy about vaccines, and New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC have decided the pandemic is over (at least until the next variant starts overwhelming emergency rooms).

But let’s talk about bipartisanship, that elusive media fetish of Beltway. Last week, the senses. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fl., introduced the Illicit Accessories for Trading Systems Prevention Act (PIPES), which “will prohibit federal funding from being used to purchase accessories illegal drugs, such as needles or crack pipes. Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, no, not at all, actually. And people will die so they can score political points. But we will come back to that.

The catalyst for this legislative misadventure was several days of Fox News orgy of outrage about an article in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon, which reported that the Biden administration would “provide pipes for users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal meth, and ‘any illicit substance’.”

Rubio, still eager to board a moral panic, quickly sponsored the Cutter Off Rampant Access to Crack Kits (CRACK) Act – get it? – before partnering with Manchin, whose state was the epicenter of the opioid crisis.

The White House says the furore was based on shoddy reporting — which is true, insofar as the Free Beacon made unsubstantiated assumptions, which then gave the Biden administration the ability to say that Of course she never planned to buy crack pipes.

The story was about a $30 million harm reduction grant program included in the American Rescue Plan Act, whose applicants can offer to purchase equipment and supplies such as safer sex kits, substance testing kits, infectious disease testing kits, overdose reversal medications, syringes, and smoking kits/supplies. The guidelines specify that all proposals must be evidence-based and that “programs that use federal funding must adhere to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and other requirements” — which, oddly enough, did not find its way. place in the Free Beacon narrative. However, some safe smoking kits include glass rods as well as rubber mouthpieces and disinfectant wipes. While the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hadn’t specified what could go into the kits, and the Free Beacon had never asked, the “crack pipes” became the outrage du jour.

The White House – doing what Democrats always do in the face of cynical morality games – folded like a cheap suit, quickly announcing that “no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of beneficiaries to put pipes in safe smoking kits”. The Drug Policy Alliance condemned the administration’s near reversal.

“Going backwards on providing essential evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who use drugs while smoking is a huge missed opportunity that will be felt disproportionately in Black and Indigenous communities, especially more than these communities have experienced some of the largest increases in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine,” Executive Director Kassandra Frédérique said in a statement.

“Health policy must be guided by evidence, not clickbait. We are in the midst of a serious public health crisis that has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the first year of the pandemic, the Blacks and Indigenous people being disproportionately hard hit.

In 2019, 68,710 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, 101,260 did. The acute problem is the proliferation of fentanyl, combined with the closures of treatment centers and other services related to the pandemic. (Stimulants, including cocaine and methamphetamine, are also making a comeback.) But underlying it is the fact that for half a century we have treated drug addiction as a moral flaw that deserves punishment, a an attitude that not only justified racism in the war on drugs, but led to a dangerously inadequate treatment system.

The CRACK and PIPES bills — and the crap response from the White House — play into that mentality to earn Fox News kudos under the guise of “common sense.” This kind of meaning may be common, but that doesn’t make it correct.

You don’t have to like hard drugs to know that a) people use them, b) helping them not die is not the same as supporting their addiction. Smoking is safer than injecting. It carries less risk of transmission of HIV and hepatitis C and, above all, less risk of overdose. Safer smoking kits can help users switch from injecting to inhaling and help prevent current smokers from harming themselves unnecessarily: alcohol wipes allow them to clean their hands and pipes. The lip balm prevents cracking, which reduces the risk of infectious diseases. Personal glass rods prevent them from having to share pipes, which also contains outbreaks.

What they don’t do: Give your 15-year-old daughter a gram of heroin and tell her to have a good time.

From a public policy perspective, safer smoking kits, such as needle exchange programs, are no small feat. We know they work. We know they save lives. We know they don’t lead to other addicts. And we know that even after the White House backed down, Manchin and Rubio continued their charade, arguing, “While this is a heartbreaking issue that needs to be fully addressed by the federal government, use the taxpayers’ money to buy drug paraphernalia is not the answer.”

Their preferred solution? Crickets.

If you want to know why the war on drugs is a colossal and hopeless failure, look no further.

Comments are closed.