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Biometric dispensers could cut risk of opiate overdose

Biometric dispensers could cut risk of opiate overdose

A new report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) shows that opioid users were less likely to abuse opioids provided through a biometrics-secured dispensing machine.

“Participant-reported outcomes included reduced use of illicit drugs, decreased overdose risk, positive financial impacts and improvements in health and well-being,” reads the report, which represents the first formal assessment of the dispensing machines deployed as part of a project called MySafe.

MySafe was piloted in Vancouver through the University of British Columbia and serves about 120 patients in B.C. The customers can get hydromorphone tablets daily through a palm-scanning interface. The dispensing kiosks are supplied by Dispension Industries and use ePortID’s contactless vein scanner to verify identity. EPortID’s access control software is run by Fujitsu‘s PalmSecure sensor.

The CMAJ study found that, among the 46 participants interviewed, most agreed that “the MySafe program reduced drug-related harms and promoted positive outcomes.” They listed accessibility, flexibility and the option to dose in private, without pressure or judgment, as facilitating factors. Overall, the report found that the biometric dispensers circumvented barriers inherent at other safe-supply sites. They also provided access to safer drug supplies in settings where drug programs might otherwise be limited.

“Participants reported reduced use of illicit drugs, decreased overdose risk, financial improvements and improvements to health and well-being. Taken together, these findings illustrate promising aspects of, and areas for improvement to, the MySafe model of safer supply.”

Machines being machines, however, the project is not without glitches. According to the report, “Almost every participant described having some sort of technical difficulty when using the MySafe machine. Issues included frozen screen or error messages, problems scanning palm prints, or finding the machine damaged.”

In these cases, technical issues can be deadly, as frustrated users experiencing withdrawal are likely to seek uncontrolled substances, putting them at higher risk of overdose.

Canada logged 7,902 reported deaths from opioid overdose in 2021.

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