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Report: Biden Admin Considers Support for Legalized Injection Sites

The 'harm reduction' clinics allow addicts to use illicit drugs under supervision

Used syringes at a needle exchange clinic in St. Johnsbury, Vermont / Getty Images
• July 28, 2022 10:50 am

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The Biden administration is considering federal support for legalized injection sites, according to a report.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the White House is "enthusiastically waiting" for the Department of Justice to rule on the legality of clinics that allow people to use illicit drugs with supervision. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Gupta’s "eyes lit up" when asked about injection sites, which are illegal under federal law. The comments came in response to questions about a 2019 Justice Department ruling that shut down a Philadelphia injection site.

Gupta's reported openness to legalized injection sites is emblematic of the White House's focus on "harm reduction," an ideology that aims to make drug use safer for addicts, rather than prevent consumption. The Washington Free Beacon in February reported that the Biden administration was set to fund the distribution of crack pipes through its $30 million harm reduction program. The Times later reported that the Free Beacon story "derailed" the Biden administration's drug policy in response to public backlash.

New York City in November opened the country's first injection sites, which the Biden administration allowed to operate. The privately run centers supervise drug users to prevent and treat overdoses. The Justice Department's forthcoming decision on the Philadelphia injection site could lead to a boost in sites around the country and allow federal funding.

Gupta spoke to the Times in Manchester, N.H., a city that has pushed back against privately run needle exchange programs. Elected city officials criticized the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition for a lack of coordination with its government. The city council last year banned needle exchanges in parks by a 12-1 vote.

Paul Lessard, 58, grew up in Manchester and worked for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation before he retired and later found himself homeless last year. Lessard said he has seen drug addicts on several occasions rush to grab used needles out of the exchange boxes that are intended to be discarded. The city's drug addicts, he said, have become increasingly violent.

"I was in the alleyway the other day and some girl stripped down totally naked and she was freaking out and going through the motions," Lessard told the Free Beacon. "I walked by her and said, ‘Please don't touch me.' She was fucked up on something."

Federal support for injection sites would likely face backlash in Congress. Although the Biden administration continues to claim crack pipes are not funded through its harm reduction programs, Congress advanced two bipartisan bills this year that ban federal funding for crack pipes. The Daily Caller in July obtained crack pipes at a harm reduction center in New York City that received funding through the Biden administration's $30 million harm reduction grant program that launched in May. A Caller journalist was reportedly asked to smoke crack in a supervised room in the New York Harm Reduction Educators center.

Before he joined the Biden administration, Gupta expressed skepticism about harm reduction sites. As West Virginia's public health commissioner, Gupta supported the decertification of a harm reduction program in Charleston described by the city's mayor as a "needle mill" that increased crime.

Published under: Biden Administration, Drugs