Addicts to get needles from vending machines in Las Vegas

In an unprecedented approach to curb the spread of diseases and infections caused by sharing needles, health officials in Las Vegas are using vending machines to dispense clean syringes to addicts.

But unlike vending machines that dispense candy and snacks, no money is needed. Addicts participating in the pilot project scan a card and enter a unique ID number in order to vend one of the colorfully gift-wrapped boxes. Each box contains syringes, alcohol wipes, safe-sex supplies and a sharps disposal box.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

People using the new needle exchange vending machines must register through Trac-B Exchange, a storefront harm reduction program aimed to prevent infectious disease. The machines will be available at three locations by the end of May.

Besides providing intravenous drug users with access to sterile needles and disposal of used ones, the program serves as a gateway to services and care that addicts may not access otherwise.

Justin Kunzelman, CEO and co-founder of Rebel Recovery Florida in West Palm Beach, said vending machine needle exchanges are the “most objective and honest,” harm reduction programs because they are unmanned.

Lawmakers worry that by endorsing needle-exchange programs it will appear that they are helping addicts use drugs, Kunzelman said. To avoid that, they impose conditions on needle exchanges that discourage addicts, such as requiring them to provide personal information, get tested for other diseases and receive counseling.

Vending machines don’t ask questions, he added.

“It’s a machine,” Kunzelman said. “It’s not asking you how many times you have been arrested, what’s your sexual orientation – all of the things that come along inherently when the legislature passes acts.”

Nevada is the first U.S. state to launch a vending machine program for clean syringes, but the vending machine model has been in use for several years in Puerto Rico, Europe, and Australia.

In Indiana, after roughly 200 people contracted HIV from sharing needles, Vice President Mike Pence – then the governor – lifted a ban on needle exchanges in 2015 in affected counties.

Still, many communities and states prohibit needle exchange programs even though they are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Florida, where Dade and Broward counties led the nation in new HIV cases in 2014, the Legislature allowed last year the University of Miami to establish a pilot needle-exchange program.

But lawmakers refused to pay for it. And everywhere else in the state, including Palm Beach County, supplying addicts with clean syringes is a third-degree felony.

With more addicts dying of overdoses than ever before, some policy makers are warming to the idea of needle exchanges and other harm reduction programs that encourage recovery.

When the Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force began meeting in June 2016, Kunzelman’s efforts to discuss needle exchanges ended when he stopped talking. Today, it is among topics discussed.

At its April 4 special meeting on the opioid epidemic, Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick suggested the county explore a needle exchange program and how the county might pay for it.

Kunzelman and several other harm-reduction advocates met with Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso last week and intend to bring up a needle exchange during the Governor’s 90-minute workshop on the opioid crisis on May 1.

“They’re still getting used to the idea that current policies aren’t working,” Kunzelman said. “I think it will take awhile.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amid soaring heroin use, Gov. Rick Scott greenlights Florida’s first needle exchange program

Hypodermic needles   found in the trash at a cottage apartment by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Hypodermic needles found in the trash at a cottage apartment by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach’s Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s taken a while- a few years, actually- but today Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, which establishes a needle exchange for addicts.

Once politically unthinkable, the state’s soaring rates of IV drug use- and deaths- have slowly made the idea of providing clean needles to addicts acceptable.

Credit the track record of needle exchanges in reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. That helps explain why the Florida Medical Association threw its considerable weight behind the pilot program, and why a Republican-led Congress has lifted the ban on using federal money for such exchanges.

Florida’s program is, however, just a pilot. And the University of Miami won’t be able to use state or local tax dollars to get it up and running and keep it going.

But in a written statement, Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed optimism: “Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida,” he wrote.

Some neighborhoods locally might welcome that: In Prospect Park, 83-year-old Jean Thomas discovered a cache of needles in her trash last year.