Vending Machines Cannot Replace the Human Connection
Apr 12, 2022
The overdose epidemic we see across the country essentially has to do with the changing landscape of addiction, and mental and behavioral health in the United States. Unfortunately, many people are using opioid substances such as Heroin and Fentanyl to cope with loneliness and sadness, especially as the pandemic continues. As we know in addiction medicine, the correlation between isolation and substance use is strong and the more isolated you are, the more likely you are to start using or continue to use. While there is a need for solutions to reverse the growing number of nonfatal overdoses and overdose deaths across the nation, especially among Black men, we must determine a long-term, comprehensive solution that puts those in need of help on the right path.
Recently, New York City health officials announced a plan to install approximately 10 “public health vending machines” around the City. These vending machines will dispense Naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses, and sterile syringes to combat the City’s increasing number of overdose deaths, which reached its highest total in 2020 at 2,062 deaths, according to N.Y.C. Health 2020 data. The primary purpose of using vending machines is to increase the availability of Naloxone so every citizen can potentially stop an overdose death from occurring and prevent other infectious diseases, such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), from emerging as individuals will have easy access to clean needles. The increased accessibility of sterile syringes stems from the concept of Syringe Services Programs (SSPs).
Although the intent behind enforcing this concept for preventing deaths and disease, a significant component is missing in making this effort alone a long-term, sustainable solution that also decreases the considerable number of unreported nonfatal overdoses– human connection.
In this process of administering these tools that can help save lives, the most critical piece of connecting individuals with a person who can help them with proven treatment strategies that lead to adequate long-term recovery is not present. There is a sense of false security when people have access to sterile syringes and Naloxone, as it’s not a comprehensive, holistic approach to treating and managing what they’re actually experiencing. Those tools alone cannot lead someone on a path to reclaiming their life from addiction. Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, staying in treatment throughout the course of the disease and even after is directly correlated to staying alive, lowers the risk of relapse and contracting infectious diseases. Retention in care is such an important outcome variable for evaluating the effectiveness of treatment. While increasing accessibility to Naloxone is extremely important in keeping people alive, it is in no way a cure for the disease.
It’s essential for those suffering from addiction, substance use disorders, and behavioral and mental health challenges to personally connect with experienced professionals and case managers who provide unique, individualized treatment specific to their needs like CleanSlate Centers provides. Typically, we see patients stay in care for an average of 11 months, giving them time to adapt to treatment and learn how to navigate recovery in their everyday lives. Additionally, we often find that addiction co-exists with other conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and when left untreated, it may lead to severe complications. Having a patient physically connected with professionals allows for more opportunities to reduce behavioral health crises and long-term relapse, as more than 85% of individuals relapse within a year after completing treatment. It is vital that if an individual does relapse, they have someone to call to help them re-enroll in treatment immediately.
Addiction is both preventable and treatable, but we must stress solutions that include the human connection to ensure no one misses their opportunity to seek help.
If someone you care about is struggling with substance use disorder, we can help. Reach out to us via chat or call 833-505-4673.