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UK’s first pharmacy-based needle exchange dispenser launched

Addaction in Lincolnshire, UK have adapted a familiar piece of equipment – the vending machine – into a first-in-the-UK, pharmacy -based pilot to dispense clean needles for drug users.

The dispenser has been installed in a Sleaford pharmacy to address a limited provision in the area.

The aim of the needle exchange service throughout the UK is to reduce the rates of used needle sharing among drug users, preventing the risks of infection and drug-related harm.

Needle exchanges also safeguard communities, reducing transmission of HIV infection and drug-related deaths amongst the population. Most towns in the UK have several well-publicised needle exchange points for this reason.

Sleaford in Lincolnshire was a rare example of a town that, since September 2017, had been without a full needle exchange, although there was mobile provision. The situation was considered a possible risk that needed to be addressed.

Dimple Oza, Senior Pharmacist for Addaction Lincolnshire, and Cilicia Wyman who is a Recovery Worker on the Needle Syringe Programme, were concerned about the situation in Sleaford.  Cilicia researched needle exchange vending machines in Australia where they are now widespread and have been well received. A report was then submitted to Addaction recommending that an adaption of this idea could be a possible solution for Sleaford.

After careful evaluation, further research and discussion with clinicians and pharmacists, Addaction decided that a compromise along the lines of the Australian model would be the best way forward initially and Dimple Oza drove this innovative idea forward for Sleaford.

A custom-built needle dispensing machine has therefore now been designed and installed at The Riverside Pharmacy, Sleaford and the new service launched on 2 January 2018.

The charity hopes that if this pilot is successful, then it could pave the way for automated, 24-hour dispensers being introduced in other parts of the UK in the future.

Senior Pharmacist Dimple Oza says:  “Addaction’s sterile needle dispenser in Sleaford, although not 100% automated, was considered an ideal solution for numerous reasons. For instance: pharmacy staff do not need to handle needles; it’s a quicker and easier process for all concerned; it frees up pharmacy staff time; takes up no space behind the counter; and saves costs on building modifications which may have been necessary in a traditional needle exchange setting.”

Cilicia Wyman says:  “We’re pleased the research and recommendations were implemented. Sleaford is an isolated town and simply to have mobile needle exchange provision could have been putting people at risk. This new service will reduce the risks considerably and provide a better service for the whole community”

Addaction Contracts Manager for Lincolnshire, Fern Hensley, says: “Addaction is a forward-thinking, professional, and responsible organisation which puts the well-being of service users, families and communities, at the heart of all we do. We’re excited to have the first-ever needle exchange dispensing machine in a pharmacy in Lincolnshire and hope that in time this will lead to other UK towns and cities providing a similar service.”

The dispenser is located within the consultation room at The Riverside Pharmacy in Sleaford.  Pharmacy Superintendent here, Chris Mulimba, says: “I feel strongly that drug users should be helped, not judged or stigmatised, and this is The Riverside Pharmacy’s chance to play a part in this.  Clients enter, place their used needles into a bin and are given a token which they slot in the machine to obtain their sterilised pack. In each pack they will also find a harm reduction information leaflet and local contacts for Addaction should they need help. It’s safe and secure; people can access sterilised equipment, find local support, hopefully go into recovery and improve their lives.”

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