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Why Brantford, Ont. vending machine offers condoms, crackpipes and naloxone

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It’s not your typical vending machine, but a new device in Brantford, Ont. is providing people with low-barrier access to harm reduction supplies.

With the touch of a finger and tap of a screen, people who need access to items like HIV self-test kits, meth pipes, naloxone, crack kits and condoms can do so for free.

“This is Our Healthbox,” said DeAnna Renn, manager of healthy communities at the Brant County Health Unit (BCHU). “This is the third vending machine [like this] in Ontario, but the only one in southwestern Ontario.”

It’s located at 133 Elgin St., which is also the office SOAR Community Services.

The arrival of this smart machine comes at a good time.

“Our community, like many across the province, has been struggling with opioid use and the impacts of that,” said Kim Baker, SOAR’s executive director of services. “We are higher than the provincial average in terms of hospital visits, overdoses and deaths related to substance use.”

The arrival of the vending machine comes as new HIV cases rise across the country and the country’s opioid crisis claims the lives of 21 Canadians every day.

In order for someone to access the products, they need to create an account which helps with tracking the number of supplies someone takes and ensures visitors aren’t taking advantage of the service.

“We will be restocking the machine regularly and we have a way to detect when the supplies are low so that we can restock,” Renn said.

The vending machine is available from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. during the week, as well as all day on weekends and holidays.

“The reason why we have those hours is because SOAR services is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And if people need to access harm reduction supplies, they can access them within SOAR during business hours,” Renn explained.

This is part of a three-year pilot project with SOAR, BCHU, REACH Nexus (a research group at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital), and Unity Health Toronto.

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