June 5, 2023 | 2:21 pm
Big Apple officials on Monday unveiled a street vending machine that has it all covered when it comes to catering to addicts, offering free practical paraphernalia like crack pipes and lip balm and even Narcan for overdoses.
The vending machine, one of four to be located in some of the city’s most drug-infested neighborhoods, swaps what would be more typical offerings like candy bars and chips for drug-related freebies to try to combat the surge in overdoses in five districts, city health officials said.
Every three hours we lost a New Yorker [to drugs]. And it looks like 2022 is on track to be our highest year ever in terms of overdoses, Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Ashwin Vasan told a news conference next to the first car, which is parked next to to a non – profit organization that provides housing and other support to those in need .
We have a rising tide of fentanyl and we now have other substances entering our drug supply, which is really putting us behind the eight ball, Vasan said.
He particularly noted the growing presence of xylazine, a veterinary drug known as Tranq or the zombie drug that can leave consumers in a catatonic state and with conditions that eat away at their flesh.
We are trying to stock these cars with those [test strips] well, said Vasan.
The machine looks like a typical snack-selling contraption, but it’s filled with what health officials say are potential life-saving tools.
Available products include the overdose drug Naxolone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, drug strips that detect fentanyl and some other opioids, and safer smoking kits complete with a heavy pipe, mouthpiece, and lip balm that can be used to smoke crack and meth.
There are also Safer Sniffing Kits and random assorted items like condoms, tampons, nicotine gum, and first aid packs.
People don’t have to pay for items; they simply key in their postcode to gain access.
While the first machine doesn’t include syringes, future ones may include them, Vasan said.
The machines, which cost $11,000, will be installed in areas most plagued by drug overdoses, he said.
That’s a major arrow in our quiver, said Vasan of the vending machines. It’s not the ultimate solution, but it’s an important tool that says to New Yorkers, Hey, we’re going to bring you the tools that save your lives.
Officials first announced early last year that they were moving forward with the pilot program as drug overdoses mounted in the city.
According to data from the Big Apple, 2021 was a record year for fatal overdoses in the five boroughs, with 2,668 drug-related deaths.
Though the 2022 numbers haven’t been fully compiled yet, health officials said the yearly figure is expected to eclipse 2021’s record. The first half of last year alone saw 1,370 fatal overdoses, statistics show.
About 80% of these overdoses involved fentanyl.
But with the US Drug Enforcement Administration now calling Tranq the deadliest drug threat in the US, we have new xylazine test strips similar to fentanyl test strips [which] allow people who use drugs to identify if there is Tranq in whatever they are using and could be added to vending machines as well, Vasan said.
While the drug vending machines will be new in New York City, Vasan said they have already been installed elsewhere, including Philadelphia and Nevada in the US, Australia and Denmark in Europe.
The response to the opioid crisis is more, the commissioner said. More tools, more education, more damage reduction, more stigma abatement, more healing.
We are facing an ever-growing crisis and we need to embrace it, which is what we are doing here today, he said.
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