Vending machines with clean pipes, needles for drug users open in Ottawa

Community health centres across the city are going ahead with a pilot project that will stock vending machines with free access to sterile needles and crack pipes.

Vending machines dispense kits with supplies needed to smoke crack

The vending machines will offer two kinds of kits: a safe injection kit and a safe inhalation kit. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Community health centres across the city are going ahead with a pilot project that will stock vending machines with free access to sterile needles and crack pipes. 

It's part of a harm-reduction strategy in partnership with Ottawa Public Health to stem the rise of drug-related infections. 

The new machines are located at OPH's needle exchange program on Clarence Street and the Sandy Hill, Somerset West, and Carlington community health centres. 

A harm reduction vending machine outside a health centre in Ottawa that provides clean needles and crack pipes. UBC public policy professor Dr. Mark Tyndall wants to install machines in B.C. that would also dispense drugs. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Drug users are first given a token through the needle exchange or safe inhalation programs run by OPH. Using the token, the user can access one of two kits from the vending machines.

The first one is a safe injection kit, which contains three clean syringes, a strip of cookers, alcohol swabs, and a tie.

Naini Cloutier, executive director of Somerset West Community Health Centre, says drug addicts should be able to access clean supplies at any time of day. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The second kit is a safe inhalation kit, which contains stems for smoking crack, a screen, a push stick, and a mouth piece to limit the spread of disease. 

"My philosophy is that everybody matters and everybody should have access to health and safety and be able to access safe supplies," said Naini Cloutier, executive director of Somerset West Community Health Centre.

HIV rates high in Somerset Ward

Her community health centre is located in Somerset Ward, which has the second highest rate of people diagnosed with Hepatitis C or HIV with reported drug injections. The ward also has the second highest rate of emergency room visits related to unintentional drug overdoses. 

The idea behind the pilot project is to give drug addicts access to clean supplies when the health centres are closed during business hours. 

"We understand the people often take the kits and materials to also help their friends and we want it to be accessible to people so that everyone is kept safe and our city is kept safe," Cloutier said. 

Drug addicts will need to get a token to access the harm-reduction kits inside the vending machine. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Cloutier said she is not concerned about people abusing the new service because there is already a wealth of support in the community for the health centre. The vending machines have two layers of glass and a padlock to keep the contents safe, she said.

Stan Kupferschmidt, a harm reduction outreach worker who works with Cloutier, said he is a proponent of the new vending machine approach. He said harm reduction can stabilize drug addicts' lives so they can obtain housing.

The start of the pilot project comes as the Somerset West Community Health Centre waits for Health Canada approval for a supervised injection site at the Chinatown facility. 

The federal government has already green lighted such a site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. 

With files from Laurie Fagan