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Scotland’s first needle exchange vending machines aim to lower drug deaths

Posted: July 27, 2021

Scottish charity Hillcrest Futures has become the first organisation in Scotland to install injecting equipment provision (IEP) vending machines in its services.

The wall-mounted vending machines are located in four homeless accommodation services in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The machines, manufactured by Orion Medical Supplies, provide discreet and safe access to clean injecting equipment for people who use drugs.

Ryan Frampton manages three Hillcrest Futures’ homeless services in Edinburgh. He explains: “Lockdown was a difficult time for everyone and we saw a decline in the mental health of people we support. For those using drugs we saw an increase in behaviours that put people at risk.

“People using our services were no longer leaving the project to attend NHS needle exchanges and instead shared needles. This put them at high risk of contracting blood borne viruses (BBVS) and other infections.

“After doing some research we secured funding from the Hillcrest Foundation to acquire the vending machines. The first one was installed in our Bruntsfield service in May 2021 and is the first of its kind in Scotland. Three more machines have since been installed in our other services.

“To use the vending machine residents must first obtain a token supplied by trained project staff or a visiting drug service. Having the machines located within homeless services increases the opportunity for staff to engage when people collect tokens, build rapport and trust, and help individuals take the first steps towards recovery.”

The machines are part of Hillcrest Futures’ wider efforts to lower drug deaths in Scotland. The charity was recently successful in securing funding from the Corra Foundation to further develop its harm reduction initiatives. The funds will be used to recruit a harm reduction coordinator and peer navigators to raise awareness of overdose, support access to IEP, distribute overdose reversal medication Naloxone, as well as developing projects to engage, mentor and coach people as part of their recovery.

Hillcrest Futures’ managing director Joy Dunlop commented: “Sadly Scotland is the drug death capital of Europe and a recent report by National Records of Scotland states that over 50% of homeless deaths in 2019 were drug related.

“We’re proud to be at the forefront of seeking new and innovative ways to help lower drug deaths. We hope this initiative will start a cultural change in homeless services in Scotland where residents are able to speak openly about drug use within an established environment of acceptance, and be able to make disclosures without fear of losing their accommodation.”

“We promote a culture where disclosure leads to recovery, not to another night sleeping rough.”

Pictured: Tony McFadyen, Hillcrest Futures’ Bruntsfield Service Assisant Manager

Wez Steele, training and development officer at Scottish Drugs Forum, has lived experience of substance use. He commented: “All too often people are afraid to seek help and advice around their substance use in supported accommodation for fear of being evicted. I myself kept my substance use secret in hostels for years for this very reason. Reducing the stigma associated with substance use is essential in reducing preventable drug-related deaths.

“It’s encouraging to see such an innovative and progressive project finding ways to make harm reduction equipment more easily accessible.

“I would hope to see this type of project expanded, and adopted by other agencies and made available in external locations, where people could access new injecting equipment 24/7 and remain anonymous if they wish.”