By: Nicole Heling, MPH, CHES
By: Nicole Heling, MPH, CHES
February 26, 2024

Revolutionizing Public Health Approaches: Harm Reduction Vending Machines

In an era where substance use disorders and risky behavior continues to challenge fields such as public health, innovative solutions are needed to address these complex issues.  Insert Harm Reduction Vending Machines, which are an evidence based, groundbreaking approach aimed at transforming how communities tackle drug-related harm and promote safer practices in order to save lives.

Greendale, WI Public Health and Greendale, WI Police Department applied to become a host site for a harm reduction vending machine (HRVM), an opportunity released by Milwaukee, WI County Division of Behavioral Health Services. These machines would be purchased and maintained by the county and hold five items: Naloxone (Narcan), fentanyl test strips, medication disposal bags, medication lock bags, and gun locks. A need was recognized in the community to allow those who work, play, and live in Greendale to have access to the materials in the machine, 24/7, which is why the health and police department applied jointly to be a host site. The HRVM is placed in the lobby of the Greendale Police Department, strategically located within the village, so it is close to a bus stop, in a location with 24/7 access, and anyone who needs materials from the machine does not need to interact with staff, however dispatch is available if anyone has questions regarding any materials and is trained to discuss the use of each.

From July-December 2023, the first 6 months of the HRVM being installed at Greendale, WI Police Department, the following is what was distributed into the community of each item:

  • 185 kits of Naloxone
  • 370 fentanyl test strips
  • 91 gun locks
  • 140 medication disposal bags
  • 125 medication lock bags

The introduction of HRVM does not come without controversy.  Critics argue that such initiatives could inadvertently enable or normalize substance use, while others are concerned with the perceived message it sends to society. These thought processes hold no basis to be true, and only add to the stigma already attached to substance misuse. Greendale has welcomed this resource as a tool to help those in the community that need it.  Positive comments have been made to staff via phone calls, emails, and in person, grateful that the village is willing to have a resource like this available. Many residents have been thrilled to see this addition to the village and wished a resource like this had been available when they or someone they knew was struggling with substance misuse.

A comprehensive public health approach includes methods of harm reduction, such as a HRVM, to minimize the negative consequences that substance use can cause AND prevention efforts, which focus on stopping substance use before it starts. This allows complex issues to be approached from many angles. In Greendale, a public health action team, Community Alliance, which was created in 2017 works towards finding ways to reduce stigma around substance use, promote prevention efforts and protective factors, and work alongside the community for what best fits their needs. This group is comprised of community members, professionals, elected officials, healthcare providers, and many more sectors that take the lead in reducing and preventing substance misuse within the community.

Resources:

Find a Harm Reduction Vending Machine in Milwaukee County: Harm Reduction Vending Machines (milwaukee.gov)

Where Can You Get Naloxone: Dose of Reality: Safer Use/Harm Reduction | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Information on Harm Reduction Initiatives in Wisconsin: Substance Use: Harm Reduction | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Nicole Heling
Nicole Heling, MPH, CHES

Nicole Heling, MPH, CHES

Nicole Heling, MPH, CHES, is the Public Health Manager at Greendale, WI Health Department, working to improve health at a community level. She has demonstrated a passion for promoting health equity and addressing health disparities through evidence-based interventions and community-based approaches. Her areas of expertise include health education, program planning and evaluation, and disease prevention in areas such as substance misuse, physical activity and nutrition, and emergency preparedness. She holds a Master’s in Public Health with a focus in policy and administration and is a Certified Health Education Specialist.