As of May, Las Vegas is set to implement vending machines which have as yet, never been seen before within the US; they will dispense sterile needles in a bid to help limit the spread of certain diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV as well as help direct drug users to treatment options.
This program is the first of its kind and will start off with 3 machines, worth $15,000 each, being made available next month. The idea came about as a collaboration between Trac-B Exchange, the Southern Nevada Health District as well as the state’s AIDS Research and Education Society to curb needle-sharing between drug users.
However, unlike standard vending machines, these will not be left outdoors in public spaces, but located within 3 separate buildings and only be accessible during business hours.
Users will be required to submit a form to the sponsoring groups involved. They will then be given a unique eight-digit ID number for confidentiality purposes but also, for responsible parties to monitor their usage. The machine dispenses kits which include clean syringes and also a separate section to place used needles which can then be safely disposed of in the machines. The kits, worth just under $10 each, will be available for free.
One of the machines will be placed in the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, which will provide the possibility for users to get in touch with counselors and seek help if they choose to. Executive director Patrick Bozarth, commented how the staff were preparing for this possibility by undergoing training sessions.
Needle exchange programs have proved successful on a worldwide scale, and vending machine technology in particular has been received positively in numerous countries. Many users feel judged when purchasing needles from a pharmacy, so going directly to a vending machine would help them avoid this. Moreover, studies have proven that these programs have drastically decreased the spread of diseases like hepatitis C among drug users.
Disease investigator Jenny Gratzke, noted how the program might “take time to gain the trust of the community” but she was also optimistic about the long-term effects of the machines, stating that “once it catches on, I think it will be beneficial for everyone involved.”