The federal government has provided nearly $3.5 million in funding for five vending machines that will dispense medical-grade opioids in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia, in order to prevent overdoses.
Darren Fisher, parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, says two machines are located in Vancouver, one is in Victoria and one each are in London, Ont., and Dartmouth, N.S.
The machines, called MySafe, are similar to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned.
They are described as tamper-proof as well.
Fisher says MySafe allows participants to access a safer drug without fear, shame and stigma, and without contact with anyone, which is all the more essential during the pandemic.
Overdose deaths have spiked during pandemic with many people using alone and a more toxic illicit drug supply.
British Columbia saw a record-setting year for the number of drug-related overdose deaths in 2020, with 1,716 people died in 2020 due to toxic illicit drugs.
The high numbers have continued into the first month of 2021 as this January saw another 165 people die from drug overdoses across the province.
January 2021 also marks the 10th consecutive month in which more than 100 deaths were attributed to illicit drug toxicity.
Also in January 2021, the BC Coroners Service says that nearly one in five of the suspected deaths (18%) noted extreme levels of fentanyl concentrations, which is the largest number recorded to date.
Experts see these machines as an opportunity to help prevent overdoses by helping reduce the need for users to take toxic street drugs.
Drug users are assessed by a doctor and a baseline urine sample is collected before they can access safer drugs through the MySafe machines, which are bolted to the ground.
With files to the Canadian Press.