Nevada has become the first state to offer heroin users free syringes dispensed through a vending machine specifically for heroin users, reports NBC News. The service isn’t a free for all and is only available to participants of the Las Vegas Harm Reduction Center’s Trac-B Exchange program.
People will have to register to receive a card and identification code to use the vending machines, which offer clean needles, syringe disposal, wound care and safe sex kits.
"This is a harm reduction approach. So people are already engaging in these behaviors, so anytime someone is engaging in behavior (that) could cause them some potential health side effects, we want them to reduce the risk of harm," Chelsi Cheatom, Program Manager of Trac B Exchange, told the NBC Las Vegas affiliate. “By providing them with clean syringes as well as other clean instruments they can use, they are reducing the risk of sharing any items and they are also reducing the risk of reusing."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 6 percent of people who contracted HIV in 2015 were infected due to injectable drug use. If this rate continues, the center estimates that 1 in 23 women and 1 in 36 men who inject drugs will be infected in their lifetime.
In Nevada's Clark County, about 9 percent of new HIV diagnoses are attributed to needle sharing, according to a statement by Southern Nevada Health District. The organization writes that heroin use has increased by 60 percent and this could lead to a new wave of HIV outbreaks.
“Providing clean needles and supplies is a proven method for limiting disease transmission in a community. In addition to providing supplies to individual clients, the goal of our program is to improve the health and well-being of people affected by drug use by increasing their access to health care, providing them with education, and reducing the risk of harm to others in our community,” said Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, in a statement.
The vending machines are currently only available in three locations: the Trac-B Exchange storefront, Aid for AIDS of Nevada and the Community Counseling Center. The team working on this project hopes to expand to more rural areas in Southern Nevada soon.