Indiana's first Narcan vending machine to be installed in county jail lobby
The move is meant to reduce opioid overdose deaths by making the drug more convenient for those at risk to obtain
By Marek Mazurek
South Bend Tribune, Ind.
SOUTH BEND — The state's first Narcan vending machine is being installed in the lobby of the St. Joseph County Jail.
The move is meant to reduce opioid overdose deaths, which have been on the rise in St. Joseph County.
The vending machine, which is paid for by grants through Gov. Eric Holcomb's office, will be free for residents who need Narcan, or naloxone, which combats symptoms of opioid overdoses.
"It's another way for us to actively keep and provide Narcan to members of our community and hopefully keep them safe," said St. Joseph County Sheriff Bill Redman.
The concept of a vending machine for Narcan started with the Overdose Lifeline after the organization's executive director, Justin Phillips, lost her son in a heroin overdose in 2014. The organization has partnered with the governor's office with the goal of setting up similar machines in county jails around the state.
But for the time being, the St. Joseph County Jail will be the first in Indiana to have the machine installed. The vending machine will be available around the clock in the lobby of the jail and is expected to be operational by Tuesday afternoon.
The need for the machine is urgent, Redman said, as overdoses in Michiana don't show signs of slowing. Last year, there were 83 overdose deaths in St. Joseph County, a number that eclipsed the county's previous high of 71 in 2017.
According to data from the county coroner's office, 2021 is on pace to surpass that number with 78 recorded overdose deaths through November.
Officials hope the new vending machine will prevent deaths by making Narcan more readily available to those with a family member or friend at risk of opioid use. While people can buy Narcan online or get doses from the St. Joseph County Health Department, the jail's vending machine offers a timelier option if the immediate need arises.
The placement of the vending machine in the lobby of the jail will also be more convenient for newly released inmates and people who have been arrested, Redman said.
"There's a stigma that goes along with opioid use and we want to erase that and give people the ability to come in here, get a dose of the Narcan and leave, no questions asked," Redman said.
Experts say the effects of the pandemic are driving the surge in overdoses by creating social isolation, which worsens mental health problems and creates additional barriers to treatment for people with addictions.
At the same time, the pandemic-fueled enhanced border security has decreased the amount of imported heroin available in the U.S., Redman said. That drop in supply has been filled by cheap, homemade fentanyl, which is extremely unpredictable and lethal, he said.
John Horsley, vice president of adult and addiction services at Oaklawn, said the new vending machine and the increased availability of Narcan allows organizations that specialize in mental health care to do their jobs more effectively.
"We can treat someone for a drug addiction, we can't treat someone for death," Horsley said. "We continue to see overdoses climbing. One of the things we see rescue people is Narcan."
Horsley encourages people to pick up doses of Narcan, even if they don't immediately know someone with a drug addiction.
"The more people we have armed with this life-saving medication, the higher the likelihood of somebody actually staying alive long enough for EMS to get there," he said.
Last year, Redman appointed one St. Joseph County police officer as a mental health liaison, whose main job is connecting inmates, those recently released from jail and others in the community to resources and to make sure they continue getting treatment.
"Obviously we're working really hard to prevent people from getting in (that) situation to begin with, but we do know there are people who are making those choices and so we are in the business of saving lives," Redman said.
(c)2021 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)