Greater Cincinnati HIV/AIDs service organization Caracole has installed a novel vending machine at its Northside headquarters.
But it doesn’t dispense snacks.
The new “harm reduction supply machine” instead delivers health and safety supplies to “help reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, prevent overdoses and promote long-term recovery,” says the nonprofit.
The machine is stocked with Narcan/Naloxone (for injection and nasal spray), safer injection kits (sans syringes*), pregnancy tests, condoms, safer smoking kits, PPE, bandages and sharps containers.
Those who wish to access the supplies can do so contact-free, 24/7.
Just call 513-399-6969 to talk to a trained Caracole staff member, who will provide an access code to retrieve specific items. Staff can also help connect vending machine clients with other necessary health and safety services.
“We hope our dispenser will be a lifeline for those who are looking to practice harm reduction but are either unable to physically visit existing syringe service program sites or fear legal retribution, stigma and mistreatment from medical professionals,” says Caracole Executive Director Linda Seiter.
Funded by a grant from Interact for Health, the dispenser is the first in Ohio. Caracole marketing director Tricia Bath says they know of only eight other similar machines, and those are all located in Las Vegas.
Due to the novel nature of the program, Bath says the team at Caracole is unsure of how many people will use the machine; they hope many.
According to statistics, Ohio has one of the highest opioid-related overdose death rates in America, with an average of 14 deaths per day. Hamilton County specifically is “identified as an HIV hot spot,” with a 250% increase in “newly diagnosed HIV infections among people who inject drugs” in 2016 and 2017, says Caracole. In 2018, 34% of those who tested positive for HIV in the county were intravenous drug users compared to 10% in 2013.
Since the dispenser officially opened at the end of February, Bath says a "handful of people" have already registered and accessed the machine.
“We believe that everyone deserves to be healthy and have access to life-saving and disease prevention tools. Our hope is that this service will get the supplies into the hands of people who need them, those who cannot make it to traditional (sterile syringe programs) or who may not see themselves as (sterile syringe program) participants,” Bath says. “We hope that this low-barrier service meets the needs of people who use drugs in our community and provides an individualized level of engagement.”
Learn more about Caracole (4138 Hamilton Ave., Northside) and its mission at caracole.org.
*Note: Bath says if you are in need of sterile syringes, there are Hamilton County Public Health Syringe Service Programs located in Middletown, Over-the-Rhine, Corryville, Western Hills and at Caracole itself.