Canada Hopes to Save Lives with New Opioid Vending Machines

By Beth Leipholtz 02/05/18

Three new vending machines, installed this spring, will dispense hydromorphone pills.

vending machine

Like the U.S., Canada is in the midst of an opioid crisis. But parts of the country are taking a unique approach to combat the issue: vending machines that dispense prescription opioids.

According to The Washington Post, one-third of overdose deaths in Canada in 2017 took place in the province of British Columbia. Health officials there are hoping to prevent more deaths by installing three vending machines to provide prescription opioids to people struggling with addiction.

The three machines come from the BC Center for Disease Control, which announced the project in January. For those with a high risk of overdose, the machines will dispense hydromorphone, a strong prescription opioid. The project is being funded in part by a $1 million grant from Health Canada. After being implemented in the spring, the project could be expanded as soon as summer, officials say.

According to a 2016 study, hydromorphone is an effective opioid replacement therapy and, according to experts in the field, could reduce dependency on dangerous, illicit street drugs.

“We all know the evils of opioids, but it’s the more potent and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl or its super powerful analogue, carfentanil, which can be 50-100 times more potent than morphine itself, leading to a rapidly fatal overdose,” stated a Forbes article.

According to the Government of Canada’s website, at least 1,460 opioid-related deaths were reported in the first half of 2017. Experts predict that number will be greater than 4,000 when the numbers for the second half of the year are reported. The Canadian opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016.

“This is an emergency crisis situation,” Mark Tyndall, the executive medical director of the BC Center for Disease Control, told the Washington Post. “We don’t have the luxury of pilot testing these things on a few people over the next year.”

In addition to installing the vending machines, Canada has also gone to other lengths to curb the opioid crisis. British Columbia has eight supervised injection sites. These sites allow individuals with addiction to be in a supervised environment while injecting illegal drugs so that medical professionals can step in if needed. Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver has offered pharmaceutical-grade heroin injections since 2011.

The Washington Post states that although these injection site programs have been effective, they are also expensive—a problem that could be solved by the vending machines, which will allow drug users to obtain two to three hydromorphone pills up to three times per day. The cost would be about three Canadian dollars per patient per day, in comparison to 25,000 Canadian dollars per person per year for the Crosstown Clinic programs.

In the end, the idea behind the vending machines is to decrease overdose deaths, says Tyndall. “You cannot get someone into rehabilitation when they’re dead,” he told the Washington Post.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.