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

New York City health officials announced a plan to set up 10 “public health vending machines” that would dispense sterile syringes, anti-overdose medication and other “harm reduction” supplies to help neighborhoods hard hit by drug overdoses.

Vending machines, which are planned in neighborhoods across the five arrondissements, will also contain toiletries and sexual protection kits, according to 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 department hopes to have the vending machines on the street this year.

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

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

As across the country, opioid deaths in New York City have increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. There were 2,062 overdose deaths in the city in 2020, according to data released last year by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – the highest total since the start reports of overdose deaths in 2000 and over 500 more than in 2019.

“Overdose deaths in New York City are not evenly distributed across the city, with some groups and neighborhoods experiencing a disproportionate increase,” the New York Public Health Fund said last month in a call for proposals from organizations interested in taking the lead of the project. . The fund, which issued the request on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Mental Hygiene, has set a deadline for proposals of January 20. The Department of Health will award the contracts on January 31.

According to 2020 Department of Health data, overdose deaths among white New Yorkers had declined over the previous three years, while rates among black New Yorkers had increased the previous year and rates among Latinos had risen for five consecutive years.

Residents of poor black and Latino neighborhoods like Mott Haven in the South Bronx and East Harlem in Manhattan reported the highest rates of unintentional overdose deaths in 2020.

“Structural racism in drug policy and law enforcement has been linked to reduced access to services, poorer health outcomes and increased risk of overdose,” the demand says.

The call for proposals identified several neighborhoods as priority areas for machines, including Central Harlem and Union Square in Manhattan, Far Rockaway in Queens, Stapleton in 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, associate director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, said Thursday.

“We know that access to syringes is effective; it’s just another form of it, ” he said in an interview. Syringe access programs are a proven way to reduce rates of HIV infection by limiting the reuse of contaminated needles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Proposals like New York’s aim to “make health equipment, equipment and supplies accessible to those who need them most, where they are already, on time and on time, and without the stigma or shame, ”Sheila P. Vakharia, deputy director of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, said Thursday.

In New York State, people can already get up to 10 clean syringes at pharmacies participating in the state’s Expanded Syringe Access program. But according to Dr Vakharia, many drug addicts prefer to avoid a face-to-face interaction with a pharmacist, and many pharmacies are closed late at night, when drug use is most prevalent 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 doesn’t hurt if we can make it more readily available., she said.

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

“I agree we cannot ignore the devastating data on drug addiction and overdose without doing more,” said City Councilor David Carr, a Republican from Staten Island who represents one of the priority neighborhoods in the plan, on Thursday.

“But I think it is irresponsible to simply place vending machines full of syringes and Narcan in neighborhoods, without providing drug addicts with the support and real help they need,” he added, saying reference to a branded version of naloxone.

But supporters of the plan argue that installing vending machines is “the smart thing to do.”

“We don’t want dirty syringes to be easier to get hold of,” said Mr. Selick of the National Harm Reduction Coalition. “We don’t want it to be easier to get drugs on the streets than it is to get the help, supplies and the right information that you need. “

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