BUSHWICK, Brooklyn (PIX11) — On the corner of Decatur Street and Broadway stands a vending machine resembling just about any other. However, this one requires no money and only dispenses medical items, most of which are intended to help prevent overdoses.
The free-of-charge, round-the-clock distribution is designed to reduce a record-high drug overdose rate in New York City, according to the health commissioner. However, some people who live near the machine are concerned that its good intentions will backfire.
The machine is next to a supportive housing facility run by Services for the Underserved, or S.U.S., a housing and healthcare charity.
Elon Quashie is the organization’s director of opioid overdose prevention.
On Monday, he demonstrated how the vending machine works as part of its unveiling.
“All you have to do,” Quashie said, pointing to a numerical keypad on the front of the machine, “is actually enter a zip code within New York City and select the item that you want.”
The machine contained various healthcare items, including nicotine gum, condoms, and safe puffing kits. Many of the items offered, though, were overdose protection kits.
“Every kit comes with two doses,” Quashie explained as he opened up one of the kits. It came with instructions, surgical gloves, and the twin doses of naloxone. “[A] safe medication used to reverse opioid overdose.”
New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan was on site at the machine, extolling its capabilities for saving lives by making resources readily available.
“We need to empower people, communities, our neighbors,” Vasan said in a short inauguration ceremony, “with everything and anything they need on demand to save a life.”
However, some of the neighbors disagreed.
“We don’t need this on our block,” said Keisha Devaughn.
She said she’d lived for more than 20 years on the same block where the vending machine spent its first few hours.
“The only people who need this are people who live in this building,” she said, pointing to the S.U.S.-run supportive housing facility behind the machine. “They should put it in the lobby in this building.”
Devaughn added that she’d observed the building having frequent medical emergencies, though not necessarily related to illicit drug use. Still, she said, as a facility resident was wheeled out on a stretcher after EMTs had responded there minutes earlier, that the vending machine could promote people using illicit drugs and harming themselves.
Still, some other residents see things differently. Rose Meredith used the machine and got a standard health kit out of it.
“I got gloves, sanitation, and drops for the ears, and things like that,” she said as she looked through the packet she’d received. “It’s free! Everything costs everything!”
Luis Mordo, another neighborhood resident, echoed Meredith’s sentiments after he, too, received a health kit from the machine.
“It’s nice, nice,” Mordo said. “It’s good because it’s free.”
The machine is the first of what the city hopes will be at least two more in various locations.
The health department pointed out that when similar machines have been installed in other cities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, there have been documented reductions in overdose cases in the areas where the machines are installed.