NYC’S First Public Health Vending Machine Unveiled

By A Correspondent
(Image by Dmitriy via Pixabay)

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has unveiled the city’s first public health vending machine, hosted by Services for the Underserved (S:US), to promote 24/7 access to lifesaving harm reduction supplies conveniently and anonymously to meet a goal outlined in the mental health plan.

Public health vending machines are an innovative, low-barrier strategy to reduce stigma and reach New Yorkers who may not already be connected to harm reduction services. Similar machines in the United States, Europe, and Australia have demonstrated success at reducing rates of overdose and infectious disease.

In recent years, New York City has been grappling with a devastating rise in overdose deaths, a tragic epidemic that continues to afflict the city’s residents. The alarming increase in fatalities due to drug overdose has placed a heavy burden on families and communities, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive intervention and support.

Overdose deaths in New York City have reached historically high levels. In 2021, there were 2,668 overdose deaths in NYC, compared with 2,103 in 2020. In 2021, 84% of overdose deaths involved an opioid. Fentanyl, a highly potent opioid, was involved in 80% of all overdose deaths. There were 1,370 confirmed overdose death in the first half of 2022. If current trends continue, 2022 will be the deadliest year on record for overdose.

As part of the Care, Community, Action plan released in March, the city has committed to supporting people at risk of a fatal overdose and a goal of reducing overdose deaths by 15% by 2025. Increasing access to free naloxone is part of the City’s plan to reduce overdose deaths, focusing on populations with the highest rates of overdose death and risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose.

“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in our city, which is taking a fellow New Yorker from us every three hours and is a major cause of falling life expectancy in NYC,” a press release by Nyc Health Department quoted Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan as saying. “But we will continue to fight to keep our neighbors and loved ones alive with care, compassion and action. Public health vending machines are an innovative way to meet people where they are and to put life-saving tools like naloxone in their hands. We’ll leave no stone unturned until we reverse the trends in opioid-related deaths in our city.”

S:US will oversee the vending machine’s operation at 1676 Broadway in Brooklyn, outside of a supportive housing facility run by the organization.  The machine will stock a variety of health and wellness supplies, such as naloxone (Narcan®), hygiene kits, and safer sex kits. S:US will restock the machine and include items that meet the needs of the local community alongside harm reduction supplies.

Anyone can use the machine – individuals will simply enter their New York City ZIP code followed by the numerical code listed below the product. Instructions and contact information for support will be posted on the machine in English and Spanish.

“This public health vending machine will be a game-changer for this part of East Brooklyn. With it, we can provide free and easy access to life-saving tools that prevent overdoses, infections, and other health risks associated with substance use. The machine also provides essential items that can improve the quality of life of all New Yorkers, regardless of their income, insurance, or housing status,” said Perry Perlmutter, Interim President & CEO at Services for the UnderServed. “By installing machines like this one in strategic locations, we are fulfilling our commitment to reducing harm, promoting wellness, and supporting recovery for our most vulnerable communities.”

The installation and launch of the city’s first public health vending machine marks a successful step towards meeting the goal of at least four machines outlined in the plan. Additional machines are slated to go live in the next year.

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