In April 2017, the pending implementation of a unique needle exchange vending machine for intravenous drug users was confirmed by public health officials in the city of Las Vegas.
Described as the first of its kind in the United States, the needle exchange device was expected to be rolled out in May 2017, an event that resulted from the collaborative work of health officials, AIDS advocates, and manufacturer Trac-B:
Las Vegas health officials are turning a familiar piece of equipment — the vending machine — into a first-in-the-nation experiment to automate the dispensing of clean needles for intravenous drug users.
The program is a joint effort between the Southern Nevada Health District, the Nevada AIDS Research and Education Society and Trac-B Exchange, which developed the machine. The idea is that making clean needles and other gear available will reduce the spread of bloodborne infections among drug users who would otherwise share the injection rigs.
The materials for the program were funded by private donations through Trac-B Exchange.
Trac-B Exchange program manager Chelsi Cheatom explained that “access to clean syringes is a harm-reduction approach” aimed at reducing the number of HIV and hepatitis C infections associated with the use of intravenous drugs. Las Vegas television station KLAS reported that the needle exchange vending machine would be available to users at no cost:
They look just like any other vending machine, except no money is required. If someone pushes a button, a kit drops.
Inside the kit, there’s a box of 10 syringes, a rubber tourniquet, a needle disposal container for the used needles, alcohol swabs and band aids, as well as an information sheet about where you can find treatment.
Needle exchange opponents contend that such programs encourage the use of intravenous drugs, but a 2003 study on the outcome of needle exchange programs in general held that they had been “extensively evaluated and have been found to be effective in preventing disease without promoting drug use.” Although Las Vegas’ May 2017 introduction of the machines may be the first in the continental U.S., similar machines have been used in Puerto Rico, Europe, and Australia for needle exchange initiatives.