Two harm reduction vending machines installed in Moncton and Sackville are being used more than expected, which staff at Ensemble Moncton say is a sign they're working.
Sackville's machine was installed downtown, inside the Sackville United Church on March 20. Moncton's was up and running a few months earlier in December of 2020.
The bullet-proof, climate-controlled machines offer things like snacks, masks, condoms, meth pipes and syringes for free.
Ashely Legere, community outreach and needle distribution with Ensemble Moncton, said the Sackville machine receives on average five visits a day, more than she expected, which can be a good thing.
"I actually went in thinking that there would be very few because it's very visible, so I was I was concerned that that would be a barrier," said Legere.
"But it seems to, at least in the first month, show that it's needed and used."
Anyone using the machine can be seen by cars waiting at the lights on Main Street's downtown intersection.
Legere said, the more people seen accessing it the better, "because the stigma is taken away."
Since March 19, Sackville's machine dispensed 271 items, with the most request being a pack containing a mask and sanitizer. Disposable gloves are the next most commonly distributed item.
The third and fourth most requested items were short and long tipped syringe kits, meant for intravenous drug use.
More than 17 000 Moncton items
The Moncton machine saw much heavier use since it was installed, with a total of 17,046 items dispensed since December 10, 2020.
The most popular items taken from the machine in Moncton machine are meth pipes, followed by short tipped, then long tipped needles.
Legere said this isn't surprising as Moncton has a much larger population and the machine is on Ensemble's porch.
"So people come in and stand there out of the rain and if they're living outside are able to kind of get shelter," said Legere.
The machines were purchased because the pandemic made it harder for Ensemble to reach clients, especially when many services temporarily shut down in spring of 2020.
The vending machines operate 24 hours a day and Legere notes that some people use them even when the office in Moncton is open.
"Coming in, for some people is a barrier," said Legere.
But, the machine can also open the door for people to receive other services, which can be anything from a snack to an appointment with a nurse practitioner who is on-site two days a week.
The nurse practitioner can do testing for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, mental health referrals, methadone prescribing and can be the first step in a treatment program.
"It can literally save lives," Legere said of the machines.
In Sackville, Legere said the only complaints she heard about the vending machine was the lack of sanitizer to clean it in between uses.
"I have some now that's going to be installed," she said.
And now, sharps containers are being installed in Sackville at the local food bank, in public washrooms and at the park in Silver Lake "which were needed long before the machine showed up … but because of one, the other came," said Legere.