Backtracking on Providing Evidence-Based ‘Safer Smoking Supplies’ is Huge Missed Opportunity
New York, NY – February 9, 2022 – Today, in response to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Office of National Drug Control Policy’s statement that they will no longer be allowing federal funding to go towards putting pipes in safer smoking supplies, Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, issued the following statement:
“Backtracking on providing critical evidence-based resources that could greatly improve the health of people who consume drugs through smoking is a huge missed opportunity that will disproportionately be felt in Black and Indigenous communities, especially as these communities have experienced some of the sharpest increases in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Despite nearly identical rates of drug use in Black and white communities, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have long been disproportionately criminalized and treated with handcuffs and rap sheets—as we remember all too well from the 80s and 90s with the “crack epidemic”—instead of the public health tools they need to live healthier and more stable lives.
Health policy must be driven by evidence, not by clickbait. We are in the midst of a serious public health crisis that claimed over 100,000 lives in the first year of the pandemic—with Black and Indigenous people being disproportionately hard hit. We all care about our communities’ health and safety. Harm reduction works to meet people where they are at, and keep people free of diseases and alive so they have a chance of recovery and healing. We applaud the Biden administration for the steps they have taken to advance harm reduction and advocate for the funding needed to supply needed resources and save lives, but they must stand firm against misinformation and continue the course to deploy all evidence-based solutions, including all forms of safer smoking supplies, to save lives now.”
Safer smoking supplies, primarily distributed by harm reduction programs, is an evidence-based practice that helps people who inject drugs to switch to smoking, which is a less risky mode of consumption. One of the benefits of drug use via inhalation rather than injection includes ingestion of lower doses of the drug, which can reduce risk of overdose. Another benefit is the reduction of injection-related harms and risks such as infection and blood-borne disease transmission.
Historically, there has been little research and funding to support people who use stimulants. These services are urgently needed more than ever as people dying of methamphetamine or cocaine-involved overdose deaths are more likely to be from communities of color. If we do nothing, these rates will continue to soar. This is a racial equity issue as much as a health justice issue.
The Biden Administration has rightfully endorsed expanding access to syringe service programs and harm reduction services such as naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and clean syringes. Safe smoking equipment is another tool in the harm reduction toolbox that can reduce harm and save lives.
More information about safer smoking supplies as a public health strategy can be found here.