Jan 11, 2022 - Health

Narcan vending machines installed across U.S. to fight opioid crisis

Image of individually packages Narcan inhalers that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Narcan nasal spray can reverse opioid overdoses. Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Free vending machines are popping up around the country to dispense doses of Narcan, or naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Why it matters: Drug overdose deaths have soared in the U.S. during the COVID pandemic, creating a second public health crisis. More than 87,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses over the 12-month period that ended in September, according to preliminary federal data.

  • That's more than any year since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s, the New York Times reports.

Driving the news: New York City plans to install 10 public health vending machines that would dispense free Narcan and other "harm reduction" supplies in neighborhoods that have been hit hard by drug overdoses, according to the Times.

  • The machines will carry sterile syringes, safe-sex kits and toiletries too, city health officials say.

The self-serve vending machines are turning up in other communities as well, including prisons, under government-funded pilot programs.

  • Los Angeles County last year began offering Narcan to people leaving jail, and has since distributed more than 34,000 doses through free vending machines set up at exits.
  • In Michigan, Narcan vending machines were installed in 15 communities, mostly at drug rehab agencies and county jails statewide.
  • Other states, including Indiana and Kentucky, have deployed Narcan vending machines as well.

How it works: Narcan, which can be inhaled or injected, works by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain to restore breathing.

  • When administered early, it can save lives.
  • Many police officers and other first responders regularly carry and administer Narcan for overdose cases.

The bottom line: Narcan vending machines are a practical and inexpensive tool to help prevent opioid overdoses.

Yes, but: Critics say access to syringes and Narcan doesn't address the underlying issues that cause addiction.

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