The Biden administration is set to spend $3.6 million to deploy vending machines filled with drug supplies in rural Kentucky—an effort the Biden administration claims will reduce stigma for drug users.
The project from the National Institutes of Health was launched in August and will study the effectiveness of "harm reduction kiosks" in rural Appalachia that contain "injection equipment, naloxone, fentanyl test strips, hygiene kits, condoms, and other supplies." The vending machines allow drug users to obtain items such as syringes without interacting with a health professional, in hopes of eliminating the "stigma" that comes with visiting an in-person harm reduction facility, according to the health agency.
The White House referenced the project in an August 31 press release on its actions taken "to address addiction and the overdose epidemic." The administration has adopted a wide range of harm reduction policies, which aim to make illicit drug use safer rather than eliminate it.
The Washington Free Beacon in February reported that the Department of Health and Human Services was set to fund the distribution of crack pipes through a $30 million harm reduction grant program. The administration backed off the funding plans amid public backlash, and the New York Times reported that the uproar over plans to fund crack pipes "derailed" Biden's drug policy agenda. The White House, however, still appears willing to adopt controversial harm reduction policies—the New York Times reported in July that Biden's drug czar Dr. Rahul Gupta was supportive of legalized injection sites, which allow users to take drugs with supervision from health professionals.
The new study, which is conducted by the University of Kentucky, appears to be the first effort from the federal government to deploy harm-reduction vending machines. Harm reduction vending machines have been popularized in Canada, Australia, and other countries. A few U.S. states, including New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Nevada, have deployed the machines in recent years. The machines sometimes include smoking kits, which in many cases include crack pipes.
The University of Kentucky declined to comment, directing the Free Beacon's inquiry to the NIH. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which heads the project at the NIH, told the Free Beacon that along with drug paraphernalia, the vending machines will include "food kits, water, socks and gloves, feminine hygiene products, wound care, and resources/guides." The agency did not respond to questions regarding the status of the kiosk program.