Will Narcan Vending Machines Work For Overdose Prevention?
Drug overdose deaths have been surging in the United States, largely due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
One of the most effective ways to prevent these deaths is to increase access to an overdose-reversal drug called naloxone (brand name Narcan). This life-saving medication is available as a nasal spray and an injection.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Narcan nasal spray for over-the-counter use. By late summer, it may even appear in vending machines.
Studies suggest that Narcan vending machines will play an important role in reducing the opioid overdose death rate.
Narcan Vending Machines
According to researchers from the University of Cincinnati, a Narcan vending machine installed in Hamilton County, Ohio, has helped prevent numerous overdose deaths since its installation in 2021.
Before the machine opened, the only other Narcan vending machines in the United States were found in Las Vegas and Puerto Rico.
How It Works
The machine was implemented by Caracole, a Cincinnati HIV/AIDS service organization, in partnership with the nonprofit Interact for Health. Located outside Caracole’s building in Cincinnati, it offers free Narcan 24/7 to eligible participants.
To become eligible, people must call Caracole and complete an anonymous survey. They then receive an access code that works for 90 days. Every seven days, each person with a code can use the machine to access two injection doses and two nasal spray doses of Narcan.
The machine also offers other harm reduction supplies, including a safer injection kit, a container for disposing of needles and other sharp objects, fentanyl test strips, and a box of bandages.
Why Narcan Vending Machines Will Help Prevent Overdose Deaths
During the first year after its installation, the machine dispensed 3,360 doses of naloxone and 10,55 fentanyl test strips.
After the first 90 days, 124 people called to re-enroll in the program and receive a new access code. About 71% of them said they had used naloxone from the machine to reverse an overdose.
The machine likely contributed to Hamilton County’s 10% decrease in overdose deaths in 2021. That same year, overdose deaths in the country as a whole increased 15%.
As of December 2022, naloxone from the machine had been used to reverse an overdose 960 times.
Other places that have successfully implemented Narcan vending machines include Austin, Cincinnati, Detroit, New York City, and San Diego.
Easier Access To Narcan
Narcan vending machines help prevent overdose deaths by making it easier to access the drug.
Currently, some people avoid getting Narcan from their healthcare providers or pharmacies due to stigma. Stigma refers to judgment and discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as an illness.
Drug addiction is one of the most stigmatized illnesses in the world. People who live with it are often judged as weak, lazy, or selfish.
As a result, a person might avoid asking their doctor about Narcan or buying it at a pharmacy because they don’t want to face that judgment. Narcan vending machines allow people to pick up the drug in a discreet, judgment-free manner.
Normalize Harm Reduction
The widespread use of vending machines will likely help decrease the stigma surrounding addiction. That’s because the machines help normalize harm reduction.
Harm reduction is a public health strategy that acknowledges the fact that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing. It aims to help drug users access services that reduce their risk of overdose, including Narcan.
Is Narcan Safe?
Narcan can be safely administered to people of all ages. When given to people who are physically dependent on opioids, it will cause opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as muscle aches, sweating, and anxiety.
That’s because the drug works by blocking the effects of opioids. Luckily, the withdrawal symptoms are temporary and not life-threatening.
Who Should Get Narcan?
You should get Narcan if you or someone you love:
- misuses opioids (uses them in a manner not prescribed)
- has opioid use disorder (also called opioid addiction)
- uses opioids as prescribed
You should also consider getting Narcan if you or someone you love uses street drugs of any kind (including non-opioids).
This is because many street drugs are secretly laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s been linked to numerous overdose deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
If you or someone you love struggles with substance use, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our drug addiction treatment programs offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based services to help you or your loved one stay sober.
Annals of Medicine - Evaluating the impact of naloxone dispensation at public health vending machines in Clark County, Nevada
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Fentanyl Facts
The Guardian - Vending machines with lifesaving drug grow as opioid crisis rages in US
University of Cincinnati - Nearly 1,000 overdoses reversed using naloxone distributed through vending machine
Yale Medicine - How Can Over-the-Counter Naloxone Prevent Opioid Overdose Deaths?
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