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Harm reduction machines in Clark County provide clean needles, more

Trac B Needle Exchange

Drug overdoses and HIV transmissions have been increasing in Nevada. In 2019, 832 Nevadans died from a drug overdose, up from 647 the year before. And in 2020, 494 new HIV cases were reported, up from 372 the year before.

One way of addressing drug overdoses and the use of dirty needles has been to provide free needles, drug overdose kits and safe-sex items.

And now in Clark County, six vending machines are in place that provide some of those harm reduction kits, including naloxone, the emergency medicine for opioid overdoses.

One of those vending machines is at the Southern Nevada Health District main facility on Decatur Boulevard.

From Jan. 1 through October 2022, there were 7,522 vending transactions: 150,060 syringes; 1,281 naloxone doses; 240 hormone kits; 1,746 condoms, 584 hygiene kits; and 33 first aid kits.

Kathleen Reich is with the Impact Exchange, which manages the machines and Clark County’s only syringe exchange program. She joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann with Jessica Johnson from the health district.

Reich said they are in the process of setting up machines outside of Clark County, and already have one in Hawthorne.

“In Washoe County, we actually already have multiple machines placed. And we're in the process of figuring out exactly how we're going to fill the machines and also the card system that we want to utilize up there; we want to do something a little bit different than we do down here,” she said.

Johnson said there’s been an uptick in these machines nationwide, but Nevada was the first state to implement them in 2017.

To use them, they require an ID once, but it’s to eliminate any duplication of cards rather than tracking the cardholder. There is no age requirement to use the machines.

The programs have received some criticism, but not much.

“For the most part, I think most of the community doesn't really even know that we exist, which is kind of beneficial in that case, not necessarily beneficial in terms of getting our services out there, Reich said.

“And you kind of expect it, that you're gonna get some pushback and be like, ‘Why do you do that? And isn't that actually hurting the situation?’ But a lot of that just comes from misinformation or not fully understanding the reality of what drug use is like, and how many people actually are involved in that.”

The machines are built on 30 years of research, Johnson said. She and Reich collaborated with Johns Hopkins researchers who last summer published a report showing the machines did reduce overdoses.

To sign up for Impact Exchange or for additional information, visit the Harm Reduction Center's website

Guests: Jessica Johnson, senior health educator, Southern Nevada Health District; Kathleen Reich, data and fiscal administrative manager, Impact Exchange

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.