Feds Pledge $30 Million To Fund Drug Harm Reduction Programs

Federal government announces the launch of $30 million, three-year grant fund to aid in drug addiction reduction.

America has a record-breaking number of drug overdose deaths (nearly 100,000 for 2020). This grant program is designed to provide financial support for programs such as needle exchanges and distribution of Naloxone Kits. These kits reverse opioid overdoses and connect drug addicts with resources without them being arrested or imprisoned.

The money for the program was included in the American Rescue Plan—passed back in March—a massive $1.9 trillion spending bill that was sold as a COVID-19 response but contained very little that had to do with the epidemic. It set aside $4Billion for treatment of mental illness and drug addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced Wednesday that it would accept applications for grants. “This funding allows organisations to expand their community overdose prevention programs by providing overdose education and counselling, distributing overdose-reversal medication and fentanyl testing strips, and managing and expanding syringe service programs which aid in controlling the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.”

The grant application page doesn’t indicate whether funding could be granted to a safe-use site like those that were recently established in New York City. While there are 120 safe drinking sites around the world, opening one here in the United States is difficult due to federal drug laws makes it very hard. The federal Controlled Substances Act Section 856 prohibits the knowingly operation of facilities for illegal drug use. This section of the Controlled Substances Act was originally passed to close down crack houses. However, when Philadelphia tried to make safe consumption sites open in 2019, a U.S. Attorney turned to Section 856 to stop it. Federal courts also blocked the attempt.

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Therefore, in order to continue operating a safe consumption location at the moment, it is important that the Department of Justice (which oversees SAMHSA) and the Biden Administration do not cease to apply federal law. The spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees SAMHSA, did not reply to our request for comment. ReasonAsking whether grants could be applied for to safe drinking sites.

While it’s a positive development for the Biden administration to approach drug addiction with a response that’s not punitive—this is the first federal grant fund of its type—the administration still wants to have it both ways. The White House published a Wednesday post highlighting the numerous ways that the Biden Administration is helping people with severe drug addiction. However, this list also includes funding and tools by which it continues to support drug-war policing.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy announced that six additional counties were designated as high-intensity drug trafficking areas in May. This means more money to law enforcement for trying “disrupt” and “dismantle” drug trafficking organisations. Fentanyl overdose death is being addressed by the administration through addition of fentanyl related substances to Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act.

These two examples include, apparently, mechanisms for harm reduction and treatment that go beyond drug enforcement. However it is important to remember that the Biden administration still intends to continue the drug war.

Biden has yet to pardon anyone, even those with nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. It is worthwhile to take a more non-punitive route forward, but we must not overlook those who remain.