New dispensing machines to deliver harm reduction supplies in Manitoba

A new machine, through the use of handprint technology, will distribute much needed harm reduction supplies in Manitoba. Alex Karpa reports.

By Alex Karpa

Harm reduction supplies are about to become more available in Winnipeg and other select Manitoba communities. Newly created dispensing machines, using handprint access technology, will distribute necessary materials like naloxone kits and clean needles to drug users.

Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin, a Manitoba organization that works to improve health care in the province’s northern and remote First Nation communities, is providing eight new dispensing machines to deliver harm reduction supplies across the province. These machines work by using someone’s palm to identify them to gain access to certain materials.

New dispensing machines to deliver harm reduction supplies. (Photo Credit: Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc.)

“These machines will allow easy access to people who require low-intervention harm reduction pieces like condoms, needles, naloxone, etc,” explained Dr. Barry Lavallee, Chief Executive Officer of the Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc. “Really, it’s about access for people who traditionally don’t get good access to the equipment and support they need.”

In the beginning, these machines will be located in Winnipeg, Churchill, and a few other communities for testing. Executive director of Winnipeg’s Main Street Project, Jamil Mahmood, says they will receive two of them.

“We’re excited to pilot it and excited for what it could mean for the future of making sure people have access and safe storage. That’s another big aspect to this is in a shelter environment like ours people have to keep their possessions on them so this provides an opportunity for safe storage that they can only access,” said Jamil Mahmood, executive director of the Main Street Project in Winnipeg.

Preliminary data shows there were 377 deaths between January and November of 2022 in Manitoba – there were 424 deaths in 2021. Between January to September 2022, there were 5,360 Canadians who died from an overdose.

“We’re going to lose more and more lives without these supplies,” said Mitch Bourbonniere, Community Outreach Worker in Winnipeg.

The Manitoba government has opposed introducing supervised consumption sites in the province and instead is committed to what they call a recovery-oriented system of care. Mitch Bourbonniere says overdose deaths continue to climb in Manitoba, and these supplies are needed more than ever.

“More equipment, more supplies, more feet to the ground, more patrol, more outreach and an understanding of harm reduction, works,” said Bourbonniere.

Lavallee says they will be monitoring how the machines work and how effective they can be over the next year. He says the goal is to create enough machines to be distributed across the country.

“We’re wanting to find episodes for people who currently feel their lives are out of control to giving them some sense of control, autonomy, and self-efficacy, to do the things they need to do – be a mom, dad, go to work, all those things.”

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