Needle Vending Machines…
Are They Coming to YOUR Town?
How do we know when the opiate epidemic is completely out of hand? Probably when needle vending machines are touted as a “good idea.” Not only is it necessary for your average lay person to carry around opiate overdose reversal drugs in our current society, but we’re becoming almost desensitized to the current drug epidemic. It’s so common to hear news stories almost every day about fentanyl killing 30 people in one town, fake drugs being sold on the streets, responsible for sending countless addicts to the morgue, and heroin being sold almost everywhere, that we’ve almost gotten used to the current crisis. But what’s actually being done about it? It seems like we might be making it slightly easier for people to get away with drug use these days.
How are we making it easier? Basically, we’re taking Harm Reduction to the next level. In Las Vegas, Nevada a new pilot program is being run which seems ridiculous. The first public needle vending machines are hitting the streets, allowing extremely easy access for addicts to get their hands on clean needles. This program is being headed by the Southern Nevada Health District, the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society and the Trac B Exchange, a local needle exchange program that developed the machines. The machines look like traditional vending machines that dispense soft drinks and chips. Except they dispense clean needles, wound care supplies and condoms.
In order to use the machines, addicts will need to register to get a swipe card allowing them access to the machines. With their swipe card, they will be able to get a maximum of 2 kits per week.
Chelsea Cheatom, the Program Manager for the Trac B Exchange said at a news conference,
“Having access to clean syringes is a harm-reduction approach that’s going to allow people to protect themselves against getting communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m in support of needle exchanges. I believe that IV drug users should have access to clean needles. The needle exchange has proven statistically to reduce the transmission of HIV and other diseases, helping to keep non-addicts from risk of exposure. But, I don’t believe needles need to be dispensed in vending machines, just like soda and candy. Putting it out there in the open like that, and us being okay with it, just shows how desensitized to the opiate problem we really are. We, as a society, should implement ways to keep the general populace out of harm’s way through harm reduction but it can’t just stop there. I don’t believe needle exchanges should be used in the place of getting actual treatment. I believe anyone who is enrolled in a needle exchange program should be referred to a drug treatment center to get their addiction handled. Unfortunately, harm reduction methods by themselves don’t handle the underlying causes to addiction but allow a person to reduce the harm caused by their usage of drugs.
We can’t be so used to the drug problem that a normal progression of the needle exchange is in the way of vending machines. All that comes to mind is a family of four, stopping by a row of vending machines; one with soda, one with candy and chips and the other with needles. And it all being considered completely “normal.” While harm reduction methods do help reduce the spread of disease and lower crime rates, it can’t stop there. Entering into a rehab program has to be the ultimate, end result of these methods. Otherwise, all that happens is an addict continues to use drugs, just “safely.” Rehab is the only way to get to the bottom of an addiction and get a person to become a drug-free, contributing member of society, which is really the only way to get a grip on the opiate epidemic.