Dartmouth-based tech company Dispension Industries and its partner MySafe Society have received $3.5 million in federal funding for its ATM-model safe drug dispensing program that delivers prescription opioids safely and securely to patients receiving treatment for opioid addiction.
On Tuesday Dartmouth MP Darren Fisher, the parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced the funding for the MySafe Society and its kiosk machines.
The MySafe machines allow patients to access prescription hydromorphone pills by scanning their hands to verify the patient and allow them to access their prescribed drugs from a tamper-proof machine.
“So what the MySafe project does is it gives people a safe prescribed option, so they don’t need to rely on the contaminated street supply, which is causing people to overdose and die,” said Dispension Industries COO Matthew Michaelis.
The overdose crisis continues to accelerate across Canada and in particular in British Columbia, where overdose death rates continue to hit record levels, but those numbers are also rising in Nova Scotia, where it’s estimated 96 people died from drug poisoning between January and November 2019.
“We’re in the midst of concurrent crises with the overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michaelis. “These are having an adverse effect on people, particularly who use drugs, many of whom are homeless and don’t have the structural support to allow them to self-isolate or to be safe in these times.”
The MySafe project has dispensing machines set up at five locations in four cities across the country, including sites in Vancouver, Victoria, London, Ont., and Dartmouth, N.S.
Dr. Mark Tyndall, who founded the MySafe Society in 2007, says the technology gives patients low-barrier access to safe drugs and prevents overdoses, while also helping change people’s lives.
“I’ve got to know personally, the handful of people who are on the machine, the 20 or so,” said Tyndall. “And I think they’ve all made positive steps forward. For some, it’s been great leaps and to the point where they aren’t even using drugs anymore.”
The MySafe team says the federal funding validates its technology and health-care strategy and proves that it works and at the same time will allow them to expand the project.
“This project has been going since September 2019 and we’ve successfully distributed 5,000 prescriptions out of our kiosks,” said Dispension Industries president and CEO Corey Yantha. “This funding from Health Canada is a nod to innovation and technology and supports a public health crisis, that will allow us to expand the capacity of the company.”
Dispension Industries is now in the process of moving from its former office space in the Burnside Industrial Park to a 21,000-square-foot facility in downtown Dartmouth, at the former Harbour View weekend market headquarters at 42 Canal St.
The new space will allow the company to grow and expand its production capacity and create more jobs in the process.
“We’re looking to be a global leader in the secure distribution of restricted products built right here in Dartmouth,” said Yantha. “Within the next couple of years, we anticipate we’ll be employing between 25 and 35 people.”
The company has its sights on expanding the use of its secure kiosk into other areas and sees opportunities in the legal cannabis industry.
“We know that a lot of Canadians are still using the illicit market to get cannabis and we think this is a great technology solution for government distributors to provide legal low-cost access to cannabis in rural communities,” said Yantha. “To really provide legal cannabis for all Canadians.”
As for the MySafe project, Tyndall believes it’s a practical and ethical response to the overdose crisis and safe supply of drugs needs to be part of the strategy.
“We’re too far into this to just be dabbling with pilot projects; we really need a national strategy on how to do deal with this,” said Tyndall. “I think the technology will allow the potential for rapid scale-up, especially in communities that have very little harm reduction and very little capacity to do this.”
Tyndal believes this ATM style for providing safe supply could be a national model for reducing overdoses and help get people off drugs.