EXCLUSIVE: Syringe vending machine installed at SF apartment complex for veterans

J.R. Stone Image
Thursday, March 30, 2023
EXCLUSIVE: Syringe vending machine installed at SF apartment
A vending machine dispensing free sterile syringes for veterans has been installed at the Edwin M. Lee Apartments in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A "Harm Reduction Vending Machine" as it's called, has been installed in the lobby of the Edwin M. Lee Apartments in San Francisco. It's an affordable housing community in Mission Bay where many military veterans live. The vending machines will soon dispense free sterile syringes.

"In the lobby of a complex? Where there is families and children? That is not the proper place to put that," said Amanda Knight who lives there. Knight is a veteran. She and her husband do not support the installation of a vending machine like this.

The machine here will soon be stocked with free items and accessed with a code. Those items include hygiene and first aid kits, condoms, and not only sterile syringes but a disposal spot for used syringes.

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"I don't want kids looking at this stuff. They're too young they don't need to look at this," said John Knight.

Those with San Francisco's VA Health Care System say 15 of these vending machines will be installed in veteran's facilities across Northern California. They'll be stocked in the coming months. Not only in San Francisco, but Santa Rosa and Oakland as well.

"This is about building a community of safety. These are harm reduction machines they make things more safe and so what we're doing is reducing risk for infections which are very costly. They really impact people their whole life when they get these infections and they are preventable," said Tessa Rife-Pennington of San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Narcan will not be offered in these machines as the veterans health administration requires over-the-counter products to be issued to veterans as prescription. Those who run apartment complex say Narcan is always on site behind the counter.

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Knight, who says she has had tense moments with some who may have been on drugs, believes the focus here is misguided.

"The problem is not getting the syringe, the problem is the drug habit. If you get them off the drugs, they won't need the syringe," said Knight.

But those running the program say studies show that not only will clean and free needles reduce someone's risk of getting HIV, Hepatitis C, and other viruses, it will also lead to additional benefits.

"The evidence shows us that providing clean needles does not lead to increased drug use, it leads to reduced infections and actually engaging people in treatment," said Rife-Pennington.

The Knights, while against the vending machine, just hope that if it does stay, it can be put in a location away from children.

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