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Vancouver is conducting an experiment to counteract the growing number of opioid overdoses.
The experiment is named the MySafe Project. It started in December of 2019 in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver. The pilot project has introduced the world to the first biometric opioid machine.
A public health emergency was announced in B.C. in 2016 and over 5,000 people have lost their lives due to drug overdoses since then. In the past years, many people have been asking for access to a supply of safe drugs in order to avoid the negative aspects that come along with street drugs.
With the program, users who have been tested and registered can be prescribed hydromorphone as an alternative to heroin and can receive it at scheduled times.
According to Global News, The machine, which resembles an ATM is 800 pounds and dispenses after scanning the palms of the user’s hand. It is located on East Hastings Street close to the Overdose Prevention Site.
The leader of the project is Dr. Mark Tyndall, a professor at UBC. When announcing the project on video he said, “You just put your hand up to the machine, it welcomes you and dispenses a drug in a little box in the bottom and you take them and leave.”
“There’s two points to a safe supply,” he said, “One is the obvious thing that in one hand you have deadly fentanyl and the other hand you have a pharmaceutical drug with a known dosage, the person who takes the known dosage will not overdose.”
Tyndall says that the machines helps users “break the cycle … and the hustle they go through”
The idea was first brought to light by Tyndall in 2018. He introduced his plans to carry out the project in September.
He noted that the eight-milligram pill dispensed by the machine costs approximately 35 cents.
Users can receive the drug at Vancouver clinics as well.
The video shows Tyndall saying, “I believe if we do allow people to stabilize their routine a little bit more by having a secure, safe place where they can get their drugs and cut into the activities they have to do to get their drugs there will be a lot more time for connection.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions who does not have any involvement, commented on the project saying, “As with any independent research project, we will await the results.”
“The Ministry is focused on our own work to scale up access to medically-supervised prescription alternatives to toxic street drugs as just one part of establishing a full continuum of care and delivering an urgent, comprehensive response to this crisis – including prevention, enforcement, harm reduction and treatment and recovery.”
The Vancouver police are in support of the project as they deal with overdoses on a daily basis.
In an email, Const. Tania Visintin wrote, “These machines dispense a known substance which has a known strength and are not contaminated.”
“These machines are a locked safe which people are able to access their prescriptions.”
Some people are skeptical of the idea. Dr. Launette Rieb said, “People can still overdose on [hydromorphone]. It’s an unsupervised model.”
“Also, this doesn’t purify the stimulant use supply, which is also tainted with fentanyl. And to hand out stimulants is also a very unproven tactic. So is giving take-home doses to inject.”
Rieb also claims that this method does not solve the addiction problem that users face.
For now, the MySafe project only includes five users. Mysafe noted that future members of the program will be people with an overdose in their history as well as people with fentanyl found in their urine samples.