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Caracole, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Cincinnati, applied for and received a grant to support a vending machine to dispense harm reduction supplies free to persons in need.
The pandemic made just about everyone's life more difficult, but people of limited means in need of immediate medical supplies faced a critical situation.
|The machine is stocked with different types of harm reduction kits.|
Many social service agencies for the needy closed their doors during the pandemic, making it hard to get medical supplies.
Caracole, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Cincinnati, didn't hesitate when Interact for Health, a granting organization, offered to fund proposals for addressing the opioid crisis.
Taking a cue from a similar organization in Las Vegas called Trac B Exchange, Caracole applied for and received a $53,000 Interact for Health grant to support a vending machine to dispense harm reduction supplies free to persons in need.
"We really wanted to make supplies available to people when they couldn't get other supplies," Suzanne Bachmeyer, Caracole's associate director of prevention, said in a phone interview. "We decided it was the time to apply for funding for this machine, and expanded it to include more than safer sex materials, to also include safer use materials and PPE [personal protective equipment]."
Once the funding was approved, Caracole approached Area Wide Electronics & Refrigeration, a vending equipment distributor based in nearby Waynesville, Ohio, to design and assemble the machine.
"They (Area Wide) understood fundamentally what we wanted to do," Bachmeyer said. "They had to design this machine specifically for us."
Area Wide also agreed to provide machine maintenance, which the grant covers for the first year.
The harm reduction machine carries nine different kits, including safer drug use supplies, pregnancy tests and safer smoking supplies for people who smoke drugs.
The machine is climate controlled, so no matter the weather, all supplies are at a consistent temperature, which is especially important for the Narcan (a nasal spray for treating an opioid overdose), condoms and fentanyl test strips.
"Area Wide worked with us, and has continued to work with us as we've changed things and considered modifying the inventory," Bachmeyer said.
|Instructions on the machine explain how to access the materials.|
To access the machine, a user must speak to a Caracole staff member, whether at the machine or at the agency.
A user can call a phone number listed on the machine and answer survey questions including demographic data, if they have used other harm reduction services previously, and if they would like a follow-up call. The user is not asked their name and is not required to give a phone number unless they want a follow-up call.
The user is then given a code to enter onto a keypad on the glassfront machine to access supplies. Each code allows the user to access the machine once a week. They can take one of each item in the machine.
"We kind of replicated our syringe exchanges in the community," Bachmeyer said. "Everyone who goes to a syringe exchange or a syringe service program uses the code that is made up from letters from their first and last name and last four (numbers) of social (Social Security). We wanted to make it easy for people in the community to remember it."
The user can also choose to enter the Caracole office during working hours and have a staff member enter their information into the database and give them their code.
The agency's office was closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown when the machine was installed, so the first users needed to register over the phone.
|A user takes a box of Narcan from the machine.|
The use started slow but has accelerated. The agency has relied on the local media to get the word out about the need to help improve community health.
"We wanted it to be no- to low-barrier," Bachmeyer said. "There's an entire continuum of people who might need to use the machine. A parent could access it for Narcan if they have someone living in their household who's using drugs."
"It's definitely a new concept," Tricia Bath, Caracole marketing director, said in an email interview. "Even though the machines have been in Las Vegas a few years, it's not something that's widely known throughout the U.S."
The agency has publicized the machine regionally and nationally.
There were 81 people registered to use the machine at the time of this report, many of whom are weekly users.
The machine's remote monitoring software allows the staff to view the inventory in real time. The staff restocks the machine weekly.
The safer injection bags, the safer smoking kits and the Narcan get the most use, Bachmeyer said.
User response has been positive.
"They (the participants) were so shocked and excited about the machine," Bachmeyer said. "That surprised me."
The machine has also drawn attention from out-of-state social service agencies hoping to replicate it.
"Because of COVID we were able to do it more quickly, but it's also sustainable in a non-COVID world," Bachmeyer said.
For an update on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected convenience services, click here.
Photos courtesy of Caracole.
Elliot Maras is the editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. He brings three decades covering unattended retail and commercial foodservice.