Jan 23, 2020

Biometric opiod vending machine unveiled in Vancouver

Biometric opiod vending machine unveiled in Vancouver

The vending machine scans a registered opioid user's hands and dispenses a safe dose of hydromorphone. 

Vancouver is now home to the first biometric opioid vending machine, the latest harm reduction strategy in the ongoing opioid crisis.

The vending machine, located in the city’s Downtown Eastside at 60 Hastings Street next to an overdose prevention site, was launched by the MySafe Project, which is led by Dr. Mark Tyndall, a professor of medicine at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Tyndall showed how it works in a video posted on social media this week.

The 800-pound machine works kind of like an ATM to dispense a medicinal alternative to heroin called hydromorphone to people who are registered, opioid users. It scans the vein pattern in a person’s palm and then dispenses a small box with a safe dose of hydromorphone. MySafe is also developing an app so people can track their drug use.

Tyndall said they do a medical assessment and write a prescription and the drugs are covered through the person’s Pharmacare plan.  He said this works for the pilot program, but they may need another plan if the model is scaled up.

“I believe if you allow people to stabilize their routine a little bit more by having a secure safe place where they can get their drugs, and cut into the other activities that they might have to do to get their drugs, then there will be much more time for connection,” said Tyndall, in the video.

The machine is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but Tyndall said it is very secure and he believes it would be beneficial to make it available for 24 hours so people could access it at night.

Tyndall, who has been working with the Downtown Eastside community for 30 years, said he chose people to participate in the program that he knew were at high risk for a fentanyl overdose.

“I was afraid that I would wake up in the morning and hear they had overdosed. They are people with a history of an overdose and tested for fentanyl in their urine, so they are high risk.”

“The biggest challenge we have had is people using drugs in a room by themselves. So with this, they can continue using alone without the risk of overdose. They can come, get their medication, and then take it with them.”

Tyndall said giving people a regulated and safer drug supply stops overdoses and gives people their lives back.

“There are two points to a safe supply. One is the obvious thing that on one hand you have deadly fentanyl and the other hand you have a pharmaceutical drug with a known dosage, the person who takes the known dosage will not overdose,” he said.

The eight-milligram hydromorphone pills cost about 35 cents each and focus groups with drug users have suggested most people would need about 10 to 16 pills a day, according to Tyndall.

He said hydromorphone is typically crushed and injected by people who may have previously used OxyContin before that drug was made more difficult to tamper with following multiple fatal overdoses.

Tyndall is conducting the research independently in his role as a UBC professor and the Ministry of Health and Addictions is not involved.

“As with any independent research, we will await the results,” said a statement from the ministry. “Patient and community safety and well-being is of the utmost importance in all work to respond to the poisoned drug supply. The Ministry is focused on our own work to scale up access to medically-supervised prescription alternatives to toxic street drugs as just one part of establishing a full continuum of care and delivering an urgent, comprehensive response to this crisis, including prevention, enforcement, harm reduction and treatment and recovery.”

More than 5,000 people have died in the overdose crisis in B.C. since 2016.

Source: Vancouver Sun

Author:  ticrawford@postmedia.com 

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