The Biden administration plans to spend millions of dollars installing vending machines stuffed with drug paraphernalia in rural Kentucky. The project follows on from an abandoned plan to spend $30 million handing out crack pipes, which was scrapped after backlash from the public.
In August, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a University of Kentucky researcher a $3.6-million grant to set up “harm reduction kiosks” in rural Appalachia. The machines will contain syringes, fentanyl test strips, and other drug-related equipment, including the opioid antidote naloxone, which can be used to treat overdoses.
The NIH website says the machines are an experiment to see if people in rural areas will be more willing to use harm reduction if they don’t have to see a medical professional. Kentucky, which the NIH calls an “epicenter” of the nation’s drug crisis, has more free syringe programs than any other US state — but almost half of drug users have never used one, and the most common reason for not doing so is the stigma of admitting drug use. The NIH wants to see if using vending machines removes that stigma.
Of course, setting up vending machines full of syringes might just send the message that using drugs is okay. The NIH doesn’t seem to have considered that. Should the administration really be spending taxpayers’ money on making drug use safer?