The proposed program is known as the "Harm Reduction Program Grant." It would provide $30 million to community-based "harm reduction services," such as the opening of safe injection sites where aid workers will supervise drug users while they are under the influence and provide them with Food and Drug Administration-approved overdose reversal medication if they need it.
The funding would also be used to purchase equipment and supplies to "enhance" the efforts of harm reduction services, including a "harm reduction vending machine" that will dispense "safe smoking kits." These kits will provide drug users with clean pipes and syringes and other supplies associated with making illicit drug use safer.
According to the DOJ, these harm reduction programs would provide immense benefits, such as stemming the spread of infectious diseases associated with substance abuse. The sites will also be places where aid workers can provide those at risk of developing or who already have substance abuse issues with counseling and health education. Aid workers can also "encourage such individuals to take steps to reduce the negative personal and public health impacts of substance use or misuse." (Related: Drug overdose deaths top 100K in a year, breaking previous records.)
In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that applications for the Harm Reduction Program Grant closed on Monday, February 7, and accepted applicants will begin receiving grant funding in May.
The HHS is working with the DOJ to evaluate facilities that can serve as safe injection sites.
"Although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety," said the DOJ in a statement.
If the DOJ pushes through with this plan, it would mark a major shift from the stance it took during the administration of former President Donald Trump.
During the tenure of former Attorney General William Barr, his DOJ claimed that safe injection sites were "utterly incompatible" with how communities should deal with the opioid epidemic.
Barr's DOJ was even able to block plans to open safe injection sites after an appeals court sided with the department, claiming that such a facility would violate a law from the 1980s that bans operating a place for taking illegal drugs.
When then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to open several injection sites in the city in 2019, Barr's DOJ immediately announced that it would do everything in its power to prevent the sites from opening.
"The Department of Justice's agents and prosecutors will not stand idly by while misguided, dangerous and destructive federal criminal violations take place," wrote DOJ spokeswoman Jessica Hart. "The Department will, as always, enforce the law where prosecution will serve a substantial federal interest."
Despite the illegality of the sites and the DOJ's opposition, De Blasio moved ahead with its plans anyway. These "overdose prevention centers," as city officials call them, are still in operation and New York authorities claim they have prevented more than 125 overdoses since their opening.
Drug overdoses are still a serious concern for America, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claiming that more than 100,000 Americans died of an overdose from May 2020 to April 2021.
Listen to this episode of the "Finding Genius Podcast" and learn more about the opioid crisis.
Learn about ways to deal with drug addiction at Addiction.news.