As experts and lawmakers work to combat the opiate and heroin crisis that has been sweeping the nation, the state of Nevada is trying something a little different to keep the community safer. In an effort to limit disease transmission, the state has installed vending machines that release clean syringes to heroin users.
NBC News reports about how Nevada is the first state to try clean syringe vending machines for heroin users and how experts believe the machines will lead to a reduction in diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV. The vending machines are set up so that only clients from the Las Vegas Hard Reduction Center that are taking part in their Trac-B Exchange program can access them.
These clients are given a card that can be swiped at any vending machine to release a free clean syringe kit. Each client can get up to two kits per week. The kits include clean syringes, alcohol wipes, safe sex supplies and a sharps disposal box. They’re all delivered to the user in a gift-wrapped box.
Program manager for Trac-B Exchange, Chelsi Cheatom, explains how the program encourages less risky behavior among drug users. Cheatom says, “This is a harm reduction approach. People are already exchanging in these behaviors, and anytime someone's engaging in a behavior that could cause them some potential health side effects, we want to encourage them to reduce their risk of harm.”
Though vending machines that release syringes sounds like a very new idea, clean needle programs have been considered a success for some time. Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District Dr. Joe Iser explains, “Providing clean needles and supplies is a proven method for limiting disease transmission in a community.” On top of lowering disease rates, harm reduction workers hope that the stigma around drug users and the way in which we treat and help them will change for the better. Executive Director at New York Harm Reduction Educators Liz Evans explains, “Too often we fail to see drug users as human beings, and they become defined by that and get called all these names like junkies and addicts. It becomes harder as a society to respond to them with kindness.”
What do you think of the clean needle vending machines installed in Nevada?
Do you think more states should consider employing a program like this to reduce disease transmission?