Nova Scotia

Dartmouth company builds opioid-dispensing kiosks to help tackle overdose crisis

A kiosk that dispenses life-saving medication for people addicted to opioids will be installed in Dartmouth, N.S., later this month thanks to a local company that's developed the technology.

ATM-like machines scan user's palms before dispensing hydromorphone

The first MySafe Project kiosk was installed in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside last year. (Corey Yantha)

A kiosk that dispenses life-saving medication for people addicted to opioids will be installed in Dartmouth, N.S., later this month thanks to a local company that's developed the technology.

The machines are made by Dispension, a tech start-up that teamed up with doctors and organizations from across the country to launch the MySafe Project.

The idea is to provide safe, easy and regular access to opioids so that there's less risk of someone overdosing.

The first machine was installed in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside last December. 

"For some, it's really been revolutionary," Dr. Mark Tyndall, who works in Vancouver, told CBC's Information Morning. "So having the opportunity to get up in the morning and come and know where you're going to get your medication is hugely beneficial to people, and obviously they don't risk overdosing."

People can use the ATM-like machines after they're approved by a doctor so there's no need to stand in line to see a health-care professional or even have a health-card or ID on hand.

Instead, participants scan their palm and hydromorphone is dispensed in about 15 seconds. 

Corey Yantha, the president of Dispension, says there are plans to expand the kiosks elsewhere in Canada. (Corey Yantha)

Tyndall said the kiosks are already having a big impact on the 20 people enrolled in Vancouver's pilot program.

"It's really stabilized people's lives because of the security of having those medications and basically eliminated the chance of overdosing when they're using the medications because they know what they're taking," he said.

Dispension started out in 2017 making machines that dispense items like cannabis and alcohol. Then two years ago, president and CEO Corey Yantha read an article about overdose prevention that quoted Tyndall.

"I contacted him and said, you know, we may have a solution for you, and since then we've been working to develop the MySafe Project and the technology behind it," he said. 

Yantha said only people who've been evaluated by a doctor can use the machines. Once they've passed the evaluation process, they enrol using a biometric scanner.

"Each person scans their palm and their profile is created in the network and once their profile is created they can access the machine by simply scanning their palm," Yantha said. 

The company is teaming up with the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs and expects the Dartmouth kiosk to be delivered to the Highfield Park PharmaChoice by the end of August.

There are also plans to deliver machines to Victoria, B.C. and London, Ont.

What about safety?

Yantha calls the machines "tamper-resistant" and said he's not worried about them being stolen or vandalized. 

"They have hardened screens, locks, they're drilled to the floor. So these kiosks are very robust. They weigh about 800 pounds," he said. 

Development of the machines began long before COVID-19 arrived in Canada, but Yantha said they've become even more important now. 

In many parts of the country, the pandemic has exacerbated the opioid crisis, making it harder for people to access services like overdose prevention sites due to public health orders.

"There's been a lot of interest in rolling these kiosks out to support marginalized communities, reduce face-to-face contact between health providers and patients so … this is a contact-less solution that protects frontline health-care workers," he said. 

The project received $500,000 from the federal government last week to expand the project to more communities. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning