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Opioid Vending Machines

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 19 September 2023
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A convenient solution to addiction recovery

Imagine seeing someone walking up onto a sidewalk, approaching a vending machine, and leaving with a small handful of powerful opioid painkillers. It sounds like a scene from a futuristic, drug-fueled fiction novel. But it’s actually a sight you can now see in Vancouver, BC.

The Canadian province has allowed the first-ever opioid vending machine. It’s the latest approach to harm reduction in an area wrought with addiction. Harm reduction is a concerted effort to minimize the negative consequences of drug use, rather than the source. The policy places importance on saving lives instead of fighting addiction.

The idea is quite simple. Instead of addicts playing Russian Roulette daily with potentially laced and deadly street drugs, provide them a regulated source of pharmaceutical drugs. This lowers risk and increases safety.

Not everyone’s a fan of the approach. But it’s already been underway in different iterations for quite some time: safe injection sites, Methadone clinics, and Suboxone are just various forms of the same concept. But something about the vending machine idea has struck a nerve with many.

How opioid vending machines operate

Despite this, the first vending machine is being piloted and researched. The way they work is more complicated than the idea. First off, they’re huge. As in, can’t be moved huge. And they’re equipped with a hand-scanner than can verify your identity by the unique pattern of your veins. A patient using the vending machine would’ve already met with a doctor who’s verified their substance abuse history and has given them a prescription for precise dosing of the drug hydromorphone. Further, the patient undergoes drug testing to ensure they’re adhering to the regimen.

With all these safeguards, one might wonder why they wouldn’t just go to a clinic to receive their dose. A proponent of the vending machine approach suggests that’s too high of a bar for those who live an often homeless, chaotic lifestyle. Hence, vending machines.

A red-flag or a real solution?

Perhaps the nerve that was struck is that making concessions of this nature is a red flag signifying the beginning of the end. Accepting and normalizing the scourge of addiction is a dangerous territory. Was it too much to ask that someone drag themselves to a clinic or doctor’s office? Undoubtedly, more effort was spent in the treacherous pursuit of heroin.

It’s also not hard to imagine that a drug-filled vending machine is an addict’s dream come true. Many people fear that if we continue making drug use convenient enough, people may lose the harsh but often motivating factors that compel them to seek treatment. Supporters of harm reduction contend that it’s factually the opposite and cite studies that show this. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of long-term studies because this is a relatively new approach. The studies that do exist, though peer-reviewed, are performed by harm reduction advocates rather than unbiased sources.

The bottom line is that this is already happening. It’s now up to us to either surrender to it like we did with addiction or honestly examine its effect on our society.

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.