Harm Reduction Efforts Put in Jeopardy
Over the past few weeks, federal budget negotiations have been stalled over disingenuous claims about what harm reduction grant funding would cover. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) threatened to block a Continuing Resolution (CR), which would keep the federal government open, because of claims that a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant would pay for “crack pipes” in the name of equity. This unprecedented $30 million grant is intended to help address the nation’s substance use and overdose epidemic. Unfortunately, Sen. Blackburn’s racist trope caught a lot of media attention and resulted in a number of Republican appropriators, as well as key Democratic vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), to introduce legislation blocking certain types of harm reduction efforts. Also in jeopardy is the elimination of the “syringe rider” that has historically been tacked onto the federal budget.
While readers who have been involved in any level of care for those with substance use disorder will be familiar with the political tactic of fear mongering over evidence-based policies, the greatest disappointment came in the Biden Administration’s weak defense of harm reduction and what seemed like backpedaling rather than correcting the record. With more than 100,000 Americans having lost their lives last year to overdose, and injection drug use-related HIV and viral hepatitis transmission rising, we need a federal government that supports evidence-based best practices and cares for the wellbeing of people who use drugs. Ultimately, Sen. Blackburn dropped her objection to the CR and Biden signed the order to keep the government open until March 11, but it will take a lot more work to repair the damage done and regain lost ground on reducing stigma and supporting evidence-based policies on substance use.