Opioids in Canada have become a serious public health problem. British Columbia stands out for being the most affected province. There, according to official figures, more than 5,000 people have lost their lives since 2016 from an overdose. At least 80% of the deaths were related to fentanyl, a substance that traffickers use to increase profits and that is 50 times more potent than heroin. A machine installed a few days ago in Vancouver, similar to an ATM, has joined the arsenal to face this crisis.
Although Insite – the first supervised injection site on the continent – has been operating since 2003, in recent years the provincial authorities have been granting permits for the opening of other centers. They have also facilitated access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, and have begun distributing free rapid tests to detect the presence of fentanyl in street-acquired drugs.
Mark Tyndall, a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Public Health, has launched MySafe, a pilot project consisting of a machine that dispenses hydromorphone, an alternative medicine to heroin. This device scans the palm of users’ hands to verify their identity. Subsequently, people must answer some questions on the screen (for example, how they feel physically) and then receive a small box with a safe dose of hydromorphone in the form of tablets.
As Tyndall explained in a video broadcast on social networks, users have access to this automated service a maximum of four times a day and must wait at least two hours between each dose. The machines operate from 8 am to 8 pm. Only individuals who have already had an overdose episode – and caused by fentanyl – can enroll in the program, with the authorization of a doctor who decides to prescribe hydromorphone and check them regularly. “There are two points regarding this secure supply. The first is obviously the fentanyl that causes deaths. The other is to offer a medicine with a known dose so that the person does not overdose, “said Tyndall. He also noted that users can gain stability in their daily lives through a secure service. Currently 14 people use MySafe.
The machine is installed in a building on Vancouver’s Hastings Street, in the heart of Downtown Eastside, the neighborhood most affected by opioids. “I am very happy with this program to have access to clean medicine. I don’t have to worry about poisoning myself with street fentanyl, ”Don Durban, one of the users, told CTV News. Durban, like thousands of individuals in Canada and the United States, developed a dependency on opioids as a result of treatment to deal with pain.
It should be noted that, since 2016, the Providence Cross Town Clinic in Vancouver has had a hydromorphone prescription program for certain people who have not responded positively to methadone treatments. Mark Tyndall has pointed out that the vending machine is yet another project to lessen the ravages of opioids. However, he stressed that the MySafe program explores an alternative that, unlike the one offered by the health center, does not require specific appointments for the administration of the drug.
In a statement, the British Columbia Ministry of Mental Health and Dependencies stated that it is focusing on its own work to expand access to medicines that are an alternative to toxic drugs sold on the streets, this as part of a plan that includes various strategies to cope with the opioid crisis. However, the ministerial authorities specified that they will wait for the results that MySafe returns. Mark Tyndall has also referred to his results and has pointed out that, if they are positive, they could extend the machine’s hours of operation and, later, install another one.