New York plans to install “vending machines” with overdose drugs

New York City health officials have announced plans to install 10 “public health vending machines” that will dispense sterile syringes, overdose medications, and other “harm reduction” supplies to help neighborhoods that have been hit hard by drug overdoses.

The vending machines, which are planned in neighborhoods in all five boroughs, will also carry toiletries and safe sex kits, said Michael McRae, acting executive deputy commissioner of the city’s health department. All items in the vending machines will be free, he said, adding that the ministry hopes the vending machines will be on the street later this year.

“It’s really about expanding access to health and wellness services,” he said of the initiative, a $ 730,000 pilot program looking for up to six suppliers.

The main purpose of vending machines is to reduce overdoses in the city by increasing the availability of naloxone, a drug that will quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. “Every four hours there is an overdose,” said Dr. McRae. “This is something that doesn’t allow people to die every hour.”

As in the country as a whole, the number of opiate deaths in New York during the coronavirus pandemic has risen sharply. There were 2,062 overdose deaths in the city in 2020, according to data released last year by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – the highest total number of overdose deaths since the start of reporting in 2000 and more than 500 more than in 2019.

“New York overdose deaths are not evenly distributed across the city, with some groups and neighborhoods experiencing disproportionate growth,” the non-profit New York Public Health Fund said last month, requesting proposals from organizations looking to lead the project. . The fund, which issued the application on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Mental Hygiene, set a deadline of 20 January for submitting proposals. The Ministry of Health will award contracts on 31 January.

According to the Ministry of Health in 2020, the number of overdose deaths among white New Yorkers has decreased over the previous three years, while the rate among black New Yorkers has increased in the previous year and the rate among Latin Americans has increased for five consecutive years.

Residents of poor black and Latin American neighborhoods, such as Mott Haven in the South Bronx and East Harlem in Manhattan, reported the highest accidental overdose deaths in 2020.

“Structural racism in drug policy and enforcement is associated with limited access to services, poorer health outcomes and an increased risk of overdose,” the request said.

The request for proposals identified several neighborhoods as priorities for machines, including Central Harlem and Union Square in Manhattan, Far Rockaway in Queens, Stapleton on Staten Island, and East New York in Brooklyn.

Access to clean needles is important to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, as well as skin and soft tissue infections, Mike Selick, deputy director of the National Coalition for Harm Reduction, said this on Thursday.

“We know that access to a syringe is effective; this is just his next form, ” he said in an interview. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, syringe access programs are a good way to reduce HIV infection by reducing the reuse of contaminated needles.

Proposals such as those in New York are “about making material, medical equipment and medical supplies available to the people who need it most, where they are already, according to their plan and on their timeline and without stigma or shame, Sheila P Vakharia, The Deputy Director of Research and Academic at the Drug Policy Alliance said this on Thursday.

In New York State, people can now get up to 10 clean syringes at pharmacies that participate in the state’s Expanded Syringe Access Program. However, according to Dr. Vakhari, many drug users would prefer to avoid face-to-face pharmacists, and many pharmacies are closed late at night, when drug use is more widespread and people need safe supplies the most.

The same goes for access to naloxone, she added. “It’s a drug that should be readily available and accessible to people when they need it most, and it won’t hurt if we can make it.”, she said.

Critics of the proposal said vending machines did not address the most critical addiction issues.

“I agree that we cannot ignore the devastating data on drug addiction and overdose without doing more,” Council member David Carr, a Republican Staten Island who represents one of the preferred districts in the plan, said in an email on Thursday.

“But I feel it is irresponsible to simply place vending machines filled with syringes and Narcan in the neighborhood without being dependent on the support and real help they need,” he added, referring to the branded version of naloxone.

But proponents of the plan say installing vending machines is a “smart thing to do.”

We don’t want it to be easier to get the needles dirty, “said Selick of the National Harm Reduction Coalition. “We don’t want it to be easier to get drugs on the street than to get the help, supplies and good information you need to know.”

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