A harm reduction group in southeastern New Brunswick has introduced a vending machine, or an “interactive dispensing service,” allowing people to access meth pipes, hygiene products, naloxone and sanitizer.
Those are some of the services people can receive at Ensemble Moncton already, but now people can have 24/7 access, says executive director Debby Warren.
Warren says this certainly isn’t the answer to the drug problem, but it will help reduce the harm associated with substance use.
“Our service doesn’t encourage drug use… Our service is about reducing the harm because of substance use, primarily around HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne infections,” Warren says.
“People are using substances and it’s a very complex health issue,” she says. “And by denying them these resources, we put them at even greater harms and risks and deteriorates their health.”
The new technology offers everything that’s offered inside Ensemble Moncton, which also includes clean needles, condoms and face masks.
The goal is to keep people safe while taking part in activities they would anyway, such as sexual encounters and substance use.
“Is it the answer to drug use? Absolutely it’s not,” Warren says. “But it helps to keep people safe and healthy while we work towards the health services that they require.”
The machine also has educational videos on safe substance use, COVID-19 precautions and a directory of local community services.
She says the nonprofit encourages people to advocate for enhanced resources to support vulnerable people.
“Their stories are heartbreaking… It’s parents trying to support their adult children, trying to support their grandchildren,” she says. “And the cost of doing nothing, the cost of not providing housing, the cost of not providing addictions treatment and addressing poverty will be those children… will end up in our system of having mental health issues, addictions issues and living in poverty… That’s the cost of doing nothing.”
The dispensing service has a quantity limit of two per product, Warren says, because they want people to continue to come inside so staff can support people as they need it.
Ensemble Moncton sees 900 people per year, a growing number, she says.
A second interactive dispensing service is expected to be installed somewhere in southeastern New Brunswick soon.
The total cost for purchasing and shipping the two machines, which Warren first saw at a conference in 2019, is about $45,000. That money came from federal COVID-19 relief funding for nonprofits, she says.
It is climate-controlled and the items are free of charge.