A look at how a new opioid-dispensing machine located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside works. The pilot project was unveiled Friday, Jan. 17, 2019. (MySafe/Twitter)

‘Like an ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

First-of-its-kind dispensing machine unveiled in the Downtown Eastside with hopes of curbing overdose deaths

It works like an ATM but for medical-grade opioids and the creators behind a new machine in the Downtown Eastside say it will help combat the overdose crisis that’s killed thousands across B.C.

A biometric dispensing machine has been installed at the Overdose Prevention Site on East Hastings Street and was unveiled to the public this week. The heavy machine, bolted to the floor, contains tablets of hydromorphone – an opioid medication that can work as an alternative to heroin.

It’s part of a groundbreaking initiative called the MySafe Project led by safe drug advocate Dr. Mark Tyndall, a professor at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

Tyndall introduced the idea, which was received by some as a controversial concept, publicly in 2018.

“So basically, it’s an 800-pound, secure dispensing machine – much like an ATM – where people can get a safe supply of drugs,” Tyndall explained.

READ MORE: Pop, candy and now opioids in vending machines?

READ MORE: As feds ease access to prescription heroin, B.C. could see relief, doctor says

The machine uses biometric scans that reads the vein patters on the palm of a person’s hand to verify their identity, and then dispenses a drug in a little box in the bottom. Participants can use the machine up to four times per day.

Currently, the machine is being used by five registered opioid users, who were each evaluated on their drug use, as well as health and social status, by a physician. However, the dispensing machine can hold enough supply for up to 48 prescriptions.

READ MORE: Opioids to be dispensed via vending machine on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Roughly 4,500 people have died from an illicit drug overdose in B.C. since the government declared the crisis a provincial health emergency in 2016, with Vancouver seeing the lions share of the fatalities.

While the province has worked to try to curb the staggering number of deaths, including by making the opioid-reversing antidote naloxone freely available and by introducing fentanyl testing strips, a growing number of health advocates have been calling for the federal government to decriminalize hard drugs and offer a safe supply.

“Back in 2016 the game changed, a supply of heroin which had been pretty steady for the past few decades was being replaced with fentanyl and people were dying – voices in the community and my friends and people I had treated and seen over the years,” Tyndall said.

“At the end of the day we had to do something about the situation where people were buying mystery drugs from criminal gangs to offering them an alternative through a safer, pharmaceutical supply of opioids.”

ALSO READ: Canada first in the world to approve injectable hydromorphone to treat opioid addiction

Tyndall said the hope is that the project helps “break the cycle and the hustle” users go through to access their drugs.

M Y S A F E from Colin Askey on Vimeo.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservation: Two elk unlawfully shot in Northern Vancouver Island

‘The elk also did not have all of the edible portions of meat removed’

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

Kilted window-washers helping seniors with groceries

Campbell River Men In Kilts employees volunteer to go shopping for seniors and others

March domestic violence figures show no impact from social isolation, Campbell River RCMP say

Campbell River RCMP see no evidence social isolation is causing an increase… Continue reading

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Campbell River community COVID-19 agencies, services and resources list

The list outlines status of social agencies in the community

Logan Boulet Effect: Green Shirt Day calls on Canadians to become organ donors

While social distancing, the day also honours the 16 lives lost in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos Crash

COMMENTARY: Knowing where COVID-19 cases are does not protect you

Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why B.C. withholds community names

B.C. wide burning restrictions come into effect April 16

‘Larger open burns pose an unnecessary risk and could detract from wildfire detection’

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Look at hospitalizations, not recovery stats for COVID-19, B.C. professor says

Cases in hospital are a definitive count of people who have the novel coronavirus

B.C. First Nations want to launch fight of Trans Mountain pipeline approval

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear five challenges about the pipeline

Most Read