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Republicans mysteriously howl about ‘crack pipes’ as Biden administration fights fentanyl overdoses

Republicans and their right-wing media are howling with outrage that the Biden administration would try to combat the overdose epidemic by saving the lives of drug users. Their “crack pipes” talking point is extremely telling, though.

Crack was huge in the late 1980s and 1990s, the drug panic of the time, and it was always clear that crack’s place in the media and the public imagination was because of its association with urban, Black drug use. Many, many people have contrasted the fear and rage against crack users with the pity extended to opioid users in more recent years—and for good reason. Case in point: The current Republican attempt to resurrect fear about crack as a way to assail a Democratic policy that is definitely not aimed mostly at crack use.

These days, crack is a small fraction of all cocaine use. Cocaine, meanwhile, is the cause of less than half as many overdose deaths as fentanyl, and a large majority of cocaine overdoses aren’t just cocaine overdoses: They also involve fentanyl, from drug dealers offering “super speedballs” (much more powerful than the traditional cocaine-heroin speedball) or from the two drugs getting mixed, whether inadvertently or intentionally, and the product marketed as just cocaine.

Fentanyl leads to far more death than cocaine, but cocaine is associated with Black people. And crack is basically a (stale, dated) euphemism for urban Black drug use. So that’s where Republicans turn when the Biden administration moves to prevent fatal drug overdoses. It’s absolutely playing to racism, amid an opioid overdose epidemic in which overdose rates are higher among white people than Black or Hispanic people. 

So, yes. The Biden administration is offering grants to save the lives of drug users by preventing overdoses and offering medical care and education. Yes, racial equity is one of the considerations in the funding. But because the major source of drug overdoses in this country is one that disproportionately affects white people, Republicans are reaching back decades to find a way to make their white supporters scared and angry that Democrats are helping Black people.

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