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Canada to roll out automated drug dispensers to help fight opioid crisis

Published on 27/08/20 at 12:16pm
Photo by Adam/Wiki Commons

Canada is set to roll out automated drug dispensers that can provide clean, doctor-prescribed medicine to opioid addicts by scanning their palm.

These machines are called MySafe Verified Identity Dispensers and weigh about 360kg. They are said to be “tamper proof”.

The dispensers have been designed so addicts can get opioids like hydromorphone that are clean instead of potentially dangerous knock offs from the street.

Corey Yantha, the President of Dispension Industries Inc, the company who makes the dispensaries, said on the machines: “A person can access the machine by simply scanning their palm and the machine will know that this person gets this dose and it will dispense their medication within 15 seconds. We’ve had a pilot going in Vancouver since December. We dispensed nearly 4,000 packets of clean opioids to people who were at risk.”

The scheme began in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the area at the centre of Canada’s opioid crisis. It is estimated that over 15,000 Canadians have died from opioid-related overdoses since January 2016.

Dr Mark Tyndall, a Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, created the MySafe pilot project. The initial pilot involved 20 people and 10 to 12 participants remained active for follow-up surveys. The study had no overdoses and a third of participants claimed to have stopped their use of opioids bought on the street.

Dr Tyndall said on the pilot study: “The sample size is really small obviously, but it’s had a huge impact on the people’s lives that are currently using it. We need more numbers to really show what's happening and the deployment of five more machines will give us some more evaluative power to do that.

“The problem right now is getting the system engaged. Providing an actual safe supply still has a lot of barriers because, in fact, we are asking physicians to prescribe drugs where they have been told not to prescribe because they are dangerous. So, getting over that hurdle is ongoing.

“If they know that they have a secure supply of these drugs their life changes automatically. They don’t have to get up in the morning and go and steal something or find money in the informal economy.”

The machines are programmed to an individual’s drug needs, which is tied to their handprint. People can register if they have a history of overdosing but must have a positive urine test for fentanyl. Their encrypted profile is then created for them using urine samples.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency gave Dispension Industries a $500,000 loan to help build the necessary machines for the programme. 

Conor Kavanagh

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