New vending machine offering drug pipes, naloxone kits, third of its kind in Ontario

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Most vending machines are stuffed full of chocolate bars, potato chips and other tasty treats but a new one in Brantford, Ont., is raising eyebrows with its offerings.

The Our Healthbox machine offers a wide range of harm reduction supplies such as condoms, naloxone kits, pipes and HIV testing kits.

“The intention of having the vending machine here in Brantford is to decrease barriers for those seeking harm reduction supplies in our community,” said DeAnna Renn, who manages Healthy Communities for the Brant County Health Unit.

“We want to make them available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.”

She said the BCHU was already considering the idea on its own but when Reach Nexus reached out with Our Healthbox, they climbed on board.

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Reach Nexus, which is connected to St. Michaels and Unity Health in Toronto, has been placing the vending machines across Canada, including in Peterborough and Ottawa, but this will be the first such machine in southwestern Ontario.

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“Our rates of opioid-related deaths and emergency department visits for opioid incidences have been higher than the provincial average since about 2017,” Renn noted. “So that’s why we really wanted to advocate for the availability of, naloxone and other harm reduction supplies and have that available after hours.”

The machine in Brantford sits at SOAR Community Services on Alden Street, and will be available for use when the centre is not open to the public.

While it is free, it is not as simple as pressing an ‘A’ button and then a ‘6’ button to get your requested item.

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“There’s a sign-in that you create and it’s quite simple,” Renn explained. “They ask you three questions. Basically, your year of birth, you choose a colour and you choose an animal. And we ask that you remember that sign-in so that we can track some data from the machine.”

While Our Health Box is anonymous, it is part of a three-year study so the BCHU is looking to track some data from it.

“We want to obtain some information and collect some data to, see who’s using the machine and that we’re meeting, the needs of those who are using the machine,” Renn said.

As for the argument that having such a machine enables substance abuse, Renn said “we need to meet people where they’re at, and we need to provide clients compassionate care,” noting that the machines also contain naloxone, which will help avoid accidental overdoses.

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