AIDS and Hepatitis C are on the rise throughout the United States, which has prompted health officials to come out with a new means of prevention.
In a bid to lower the risk of AIDS and Hepatitis C, Las Vegas has become the first city in the United States to install public needle vending machines.
Similar models are already in use in Australia, Puerto Rico, and Europe, but this is the first time that the concept has been introduced in the United States.
How The Needle Vending Machine Works
Trac-B Exchange developed the needle vending machines. Trac-B Exchange is a program run by the Las Vegas Hard Reduction Center.
The initiative is the brainchild of the Trac-B Exchange, Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society, and the Southern Nevada Health District.
To use the vending machine, one has to first register at Trac-B Exchange or one of the contractors that work with them.
After registration, people are given a card and a unique ID number. To get a needle pack from the vending machine, users would first need to swipe the card given by Trac-B and then enter their ID code. No money is required for the needle boxes; however, each individual is limited to two boxes per week.
Each of these boxes contains a set of 10 needles, a rubber tourniquet, a needle disposal kit for the used needles, alcohol swabs, and safe sex kits. It also includes band aids and an information sheet providing information on where to seek treatment.
How Will The Vending Machines Help?
State authorities believe that these vending machines would encourage people to use clean needles while injecting drugs, or when used for any other purpose. Needle sharing and contaminated needle usage has led to several cases of Hepatitis C or HIV among people.
Drug use through injection caused 6 percent of the new cases of HIV in 2015. However, statistics show that around 45 percent of the new Hepatitis C cases propagated due to sharing of contaminated needles. This rate was even higher in the rural areas of the country.
"People are already exchanging in these behaviors, and anytime someone's engaging in a behavior that could cause them some potential health side effects, we want to encourage them to reduce their risk of harm," said Chelsi Cheatom, the program manager for Trac-B Exchange.
There are other needle exchange programs but all of them are independent. This initiative is the first such program in collaboration with the SNHD and will be paid for by private donations.
Currently, the three machines which will be functional are set to be housed in downtown Las Vegas, away from the strip itself. They will become operational by May.
Hopefully, the precautionary measure would help curtail the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.