Las Vegas in Nevada will become the first city in the United States to dispense clean syringes in vending machines for free, an effort that may prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
The effort may not put an end to opioid addiction but it may reduce the transmission of life-threatening diseases that are commonly contracted when people share contaminated needles.
HIV, Hepatitis C, And Injected Drug Use
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in 10 AIDS diagnoses in 2015 is attributed to intravenous drug use.
"Sharing needles, syringes, and other injection equipment is a direct route of HIV transmission," the CDC said. "The risk for getting or transmitting HIV is very high if an HIV-negative person uses injection equipment that someone with HIV has used. This high risk is because the drug materials may have blood in them, and blood can carry HIV."
Although injecting drugs is a relatively low factor when it comes to HIV spread, up to 44 percent of young intravenous drug users carry the hepatitis C virus.
Just like HIV, the hepatitis C virus can be contracted if a person comes in contact with the blood of someone who has the liver disease. This commonly happens when people share needles and other equipment used to inject illegal drugs.
Syringe Vending Machines
The new syringe vending machines may help curb the spread of these diseases amid the high rates of disease transmission among needle users and the rising number of people who use drugs.
In Clark County where Las Vegas is located, the transmission rate of HIV among needle users is higher than the U.S. average at 9 percent. Use of heroin among people between 18 and 25 years old likewise increased more than two times over the past decade.
The vending machines do not take money but drug users can scan a card and enter their ID number to get one of the cardboard boxes that contain alcohol wipes, safe sex supplies, disposal containers, and syringes. Each client is limited to getting two kits per week.
New Way To Curb Spread Of HIV and Hepatitis C
Drug users may resort to sharing potentially contaminated needles when they can't find clean syringes, such as when they find it difficult to buy from skeptical pharmacists who do not want to sell needles to suspected drug users.
"It's incredibly hard to buy needles without coming up with a crazy sob story about how your dog or grandma is a diabetic," related Meagan Floyd, who got infected with hepatitis C after sharing needles to shoot heroin.
The people behind the program said that the vending machines would encourage people who inject drugs to use clean needles.
"Providing clean needles and supplies is a proven method for limiting disease transmission in a community," said Southern Nevada Health District Chief Health Officer Joe Iser.
"We also know that providing supplies to individual clients, the goal of our program is to improve the health and well-being of people affected by drug use by increasing their access to health care, providing them with education, and reducing the risk of harm to others in our areas."