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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At drug summit, Obama arrives bearing gifts

Moderator Sanjay Gupta listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit at AmericasMart in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Moderator Sanjay Gupta listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

What’s the use of being the commander in chief unless you can do a little commanding from time to time?

Which is why President Barack Obama didn’t show up empty-handed Tuesday afternoon at the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin in Atlanta. He had executive branch agencies arrive bearing gifts. Among them:

  • Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed rule to increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients. HHS had already released $94 million in new funding to 271 community health centers, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction and abuse- it could assist 124,000 new patients.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is releasing a $11 million for up to 11 states to expand medication-assisted treatment for addiction.
  • Back to HHS: Information on HHS-funded programs regarding the use of federal dollars to start or expand needle exchanges.  Obama last year reversed the longstanding ban on federal money for such programs.
  • Also from the White House, an announcement that more than 60 medical schools, beginning in fall 2016, will require their students to take some form of prescriber education, the better to curb the kind of prescribing that has resulted in 215 million U.S. prescriptions for narcotics every year. The only Florida school named: University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

“Very rarely is money the answer alone,” said Obama to a crowd of about 2,000. “But it helps.”

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.