Harm reduction items now available from vending machines in Atlantic Canada

Feb 21, 2023

As part of new harm reduction measures funded by the federal government, vending machines that dispense harm reduction items including HIV self-testing kits, clean needles, and naloxone kits have been installed in Atlantic Canada. In addition, there are plans to install one hundred more similar vending machines across Canada over the next three years in order to address the rising numbers of HIV cases and the ongoing opioid crisis.

The machines are funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada to be installed over the next five years. Furthermore, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation and Even the Odds, a partnership between Staples Canada and MAP Urban Health Sciences, also contributed funding.

In his interview with Toronto Star, Dr. Sean Rourke, a scientist with MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions in Toronto, said the project began when he was working to get the first self-testing kit for HIV approved and available in Canada. Consequently, it was approved by Health Canada in November 2020 and, according to Dr. Rourke, the next step was making it available to those who need it.

Furthermore, the I’m Ready program was launched to distribute the tests, permitting individuals to download an application on their phone to get the test delivered to their residence or to be picked up at selected locations across the country. However, since this program did not have enough reach, the idea to create and install Our Healthbox machines in communities that need them came about. This technology is a smart machine with a digital screen that works like a vending machine with free HIV and COVID-19 self-testing kits, clean needles, naloxone, and crack kits with safe smoking paraphernalia. Importantly, Our Healthbox will also notify individuals if there is a contaminated drug supply.

According to Debby Warren, executive director at ENSEMBLE in Moncton, her organization made available two Our Healthbox machines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That machine, once we turned it on back in December of 2020, it was unbelievable, the access to it — how people came from everywhere in our community to access it,” Warren said in her interview with Toronto Star. “We could not keep up with the demand to keep the machines out.”

In addition, Warren added that one of the key benefits of Our Healthbox machines is that they’re accessible outside of business hours.

“We put Naloxone kits (in the Healthbox) and people come running down the street in daytime when we’re open, bare feet in the winter, screaming for a Naloxone kit … because we had the machine at night, they were able to still access it. It could have been quite a different outcome if we didn’t have Naloxone readily available 24/7.”