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Syringe Vending Machine Tested In Effort To Halt Spread of AIDS

November 3, 1988

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Municipal health officials are testing a vending machine that would provide drug users with clean syringes at any time, in an effort to halt the spread of AIDS, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Ernst Buning, spokesman for Amsterdam’s Municipal Health Department, said the city budgeted $17,500 for the vending machine project, which would make clean syringes available at night for the first time.

Buning said a syringe exchange program for drug users has been under way in Amsterdam since 1984, but drug counseling offices that distribute the syringes are open only during the day. ″Nights remain a problem,″ he said.

If technical problems with the current prototype are resolved, Buning said, a test model would be placed at one Amsterdam location and the city would consult with residents to ensure it was being used only by those who need it.

He admitted it was a ″realistic concern″ that neighborhood children might buy a syringe from the machine to play with, but claimed it would not influence them to become drug abusers.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to many infections and cancers. No cure has been found.

The virus is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Other means of transmission include by transfusion of tainted blood or blood products, and sharing contaminated hypodermic needles or syringes by drug abusers. AIDS can also be passed from mother to child at or before birth.

The 5-foot-high machine issues a sterile hypodermic syringe if a used one is inserted into a specially designed slot, Buning said. The machine can tell whether it is really a syringe that is being inserted, he said.

Drug users can also buy a syringe from the machine by inserting 50 cents.

Buning claimed that only 27 percent of the Dutch capital’s 7,000 drug addicts have been infected with the AIDS virus because of the syringe exchange program, as opposed to 60-70 percent in cities like New York, Paris or Milan.

However, he conceded that as many as 5,500 Amsterdam heroin abusers do not inject the drug but inhale it instead.

″At least we’re trying to do something (about AIDS), but whether it really helps in the long run we don’t know,″ Buning said.

Police in Amsterdam and the port city of Rotterdam routinely confiscate used syringes from drug abusers they arrest and issue the addicts clean ones when they are released.

Of the 605 Dutch AIDS patients, about half have died, according to figures released Oct 1.

The Amsterdam program is mainly geared to removing used syringes from circulation. It has not led to any increase in drug abuse, according to Buning.

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