Clean Needle Vending Machines to Launch in Effort to Eliminate HIV, Hepatitis C

The vending machines dispense kits containing sterile syringes and needles in hopes of reducing the spread of infectious disease.

In an effort to combat the spread of infectious diseases, Las Vegas is gearing up to be the first city in the nation to provide vending machines that dispense clean needles, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The goal of the vending machines is to discourage the sharing of needles among people who inject drugs. Three machines will become available to users beginning in May, according to the report.

The pilot program is part of a coordinated effort between Trac-B Exchange, the Southern Nevada Health District, and the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society, according to the LA Times.

To participate in the program, individuals are required to fill out a form for sponsoring groups. They will then receive an 8-digit identification number to track their use and ensure confidentiality, the report noted.

The $15,000 machines will be located inside the groups’ 3 facilities and can only be accessed during business hours. Each kit will contain sterile syringes and needles, as well as a compartment for used needles that can be safely disposed at the machines, the report noted. Although the cost of each kit is under $10, it will be free for users, Rick Reich, program director of Trac-B Exchange, told the LA Times.

A reason for placing the vending machines inside the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada was to allow drug users to interact with train counselors if they so choose, according to the Times. In preparation for the vending machine launch, Patrick Bozarth, executive director of the counseling center, said in the report that his staff has been undergoing training.

“I think we’re optimistic it will help,” Bozarth told the LA Times. “But it’s such a new program and we want to make sure we’re prepared.”

Needle exchange programs have demonstrated their success throughout the world. According to the CDC, the North American Needle Exchange Network counts 228 syringe service programs in 35 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Currently, pharmacies in Nevada can sell clean needles and syringes, but have discretion about who can purchase them, the report noted. Users also feel uncomfortable during these transactions with the pharmacists, and Reich believes the machines will help remove some of the stigma, as reported by the LA Times.

“Vending machines are not born with a bias,” Reich told the LA Times. “It doesn’t have a personality and it doesn’t care how you look when you approach it.”

Experts are hopeful that the machines will help curb the spread of infectious diseases, but are aware of some of the challenges the vending machines will come with.

“It does take time to gain the trust of the community,” Jenny Gratzke, disease investigator and intervention specialist with the Southern Nevada Health District, told the LA Times. “The people who are injecting the drugs have been stigmatized, and so I think they may be a little hesitant initially. But once it catches on, I think it will be beneficial for everyone involved.”