Two Washington, D.C. government organizations announced a pilot project featuring vending machines that provide safety products like Naloxone (Narcan), an opioid overdose reversal drug, throughout the District that started April 4.
These new machines will also provide access to life-saving fentanyl test strips and hygiene and wellness products, according to the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), a D.C. government organization that provides prevention, intervention and treatment services, and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), which administers pre-hospital treatment and rescue services. Family and Medical Counseling Services (FMCS), which provides emotional and physical health care to District families, and Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS), a nonprofit that advocates for communities facing sexual exchange and drug use, received grants from DC Health in October 2021 for the program, according to a DC Health press release.
Alexander/a Bradley, the outreach and community education manager at HIPS, said that similar harm reduction vending machines (HRVMs) are not a new concept.
“In the United States, there have been HRVMs in Nevada for years now, and other jurisdictions have had naloxone-specific vending machines,” Bradley wrote to The Hoya. “Here in DC, organizations and residents have been advocating for low-barrier services like HRVMs for a while, and DC Health put out a Request for Proposals in 2020 based on the knowledge of the success of other programs and the potential for existing harm reduction programs in DC to succeed with such a program.”
Bradley said the supplies in the vending machines will be free of charge, and that residents should call the phone number on the HRVM to receive a code they need to enter on the machine for access to products like naloxone or condoms. Items with more restrictions, such as sterile syringes, require a unique code obtained through enrollment in the program.
There are currently six vending machines open 24/7 in various locations around the District where drug overdoses and unhoused populations are present at higher than average rates, according to the press release.
College students can provide significant support for harm reduction in the greater D.C. community, according to Bradley.
“Being a voice for supporting rather than stigmatizing people who use drugs is critically important,” Bradley wrote. “There are also many public events and advocacy efforts taking place on this issue.”
HIPS is a leader of #DecrimPovertyDC, a grassroots advocacy coalition fighting to decriminalize poverty, which Bradley said college students can continue to support.
The closest HRVM is about 5 miles from Georgetown University’s campus at 1101 Half St. SW. Lauren Aslami (CAS ’24), the treasurer of Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS) and one of its quality assurance officers, said GERMS is equipped to handle overdose in the Georgetown community.
“All of our members are emergency medical technicians carrying national and DC certifications and are trained in managing overdose-related emergencies,” Aslami wrote to The Hoya. “While the treatment for an overdose will depend on a specific patient’s presentation, this can include airway and breathing support and/or the administration of naloxone (also known as Narcan), as indicated.”
Aslami said it is important for students to know that an individual’s condition can decline quickly in situations where drug overdose is happening, and that key symptoms include irregular breathing, pale skin and pinpoint pupils.
“If you believe someone you are with is in danger of an overdose or exhibiting concerning symptoms, it is always best to call GERMS so they can be assessed and their safety can be ensured, before they get any worse,” Aslami wrote.
Bradley said the HRVM pilot program will be coming to a close in September 2023 but wants the city to fund more permanent machines.
“We are hopeful that D.C. Health will consider this an investment worth renewing, especially considering we are really just getting started in terms of the rollout of the fully operational machines,” Bradley wrote.
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