Needle exchange programs are generally considered a huge success. In New York state, the programs have been credited with virtually eradicating the transmission of AIDS through contaminated needles. Now, in an effort to further crack down on disease transmission via shared needles, Las Vegas has become the first city in the US to install a clean needle vending machine.
A Trac-B Exchange clean needle vending machine. Image: Trac-B
Traditional needle exchanges take resources — time, money and volunteers willing to hang out in neighbourhoods with reputations for drug use, and dole out fresh needles in exchange for used ones. The syringe vending machine program, a collaborative effort between Las Vegas harm reduction centre Trac-B Exchange and the state, seeks to make clean needles more accessible in order to stem the spread of diseases like HIV and hep C. Three machines will debut at outreach centres around the city next month.
Each package will include alcohol wipes, a disposal container and condoms in addition to clean needles. Unlike most vending machines, the contents will be free but require users to register a swipe card with their birthday and the first two letters of their first and last name to monitor the number of kits per user. There will also be a kiosk to dispose of dirty needles.
Needle exchange programs don't just prevent the spread of disease among intravenous drug users, though given the high percentage of users with HIV and hep C, that's certainly the most urgent reason for their existence. They also prevent abscesses, infections and damage to veins, helping better maintain users' overall health. And while there is no strong evidence that such programs encourage drug use, there are plenty of studies that suggest they are highly effective at reducing the spread of diseases transmitted via blood.