An ATM-like machine for opioid drugs as one way to reduce the harm in the deadly overdose epidemic is getting closer to reality, according to the executive medical director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Dr. Mark Tyndall told city council he’s even found a supplier to provide a “750-pound piece of military grade steel” that could prevent thefts — but also has the technology to tailor the painkillers that it would release to drug users.
He said other strategies that the city and health agencies are employing such as overdose prevention sites and prescription heroin are making an impact, but can’t scale up to get at the root cause of the contaminated drug supply that is a major part of the more than 1,200 people who died of the crisis in the past year.
“We need to do something quick. I’m afraid that people will look at this as an interesting idea and be cautious but that is not going to solve our problems in the overdose crisis,” Dr. Tyndall said.
The machine would dispense hydromorphone, a painkiller commonly marketed under the brand name Dilaudid.
“The machine runs by biometrics, we can program exactly to give this much to this person. You put your finger on it, it pops out two pills, it’s on the cloud and every pill we know about,” Tyndall said.
It’s not hard to find those pills, he said. Despite the street value of each pill being around $32 — but it would cost only about $0.32 a pill to supply, as it’s a common painkiller, he said.
And it would be cleaner than the street drug supply, which is contaminated with fentanyl, a extremely potent opioid that is a major reason behind the recent surge in drug deaths.
It’s ethical for doctors who know that their addicted patients will turn to this poisoned supply and risk their lives to provide the pills that could save their lives, Tyndall said.
The difficulty is finding a doctor to prescribe it, and he’s working with regulatory body the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
City councillor Melissa de Genova asked about the machine’s security and whether the patients could then re-sell the cheap pills on the street for profit.
“Could I say that would never happen? No,” said Tyndall. “Could I say that it would be the worst thing in the world that people were selling safe drugs on the street?”
High-dose injectable hydromorphone is currently provided to chronic substance users at a Vancouver clinic called Crosstown.