Can Narcan Vending Machines At Festivals Save Lives? OpiSafe Thinks So

Screen Shot 2024 04 04 at 8.25.04 AM
Photo courtesy OpiSafe

The nation’s opioid crisis is tragically still in full-swing, abetted in large measure by the rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. According to a March 2024 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data Brief, “The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased from 8.2 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2002 to 32.6 in 2022” –a nearly 300% rise. As dire as those stats are, sometimes it takes popular culture, like an HBO series starring Zendaya and Sydney Sweeney, to drive the point home and crystalize the need for creative solutions.

“I watched the show ‘Euphoria’ and it scared the stuffing out of me,” says Carla Douglin, founder and CEO of OpiSafe Vending Solutions, based in Washington, D.C. “Honestly, I am a mother of a 10-year-old. Someone suggested I watch the show and watching this girl go through her struggles with drugs, number one, but then also getting hooked on fentanyl, really, really scared me. It unnerved me. After I watched the show, this was the middle of last year. I started looking into the fentanyl crisis and what people were doing about it and what solutions were available.”

Douglin had heard about vending machines with naloxone — better known under its brand name Narcan — which can effectively treat narcotic overdoses in emergency situations, being used as harm reduction tools in various locales but asked herself, “Are people going to be able to get to these tools when they need it? Say if they’re at a concert or festival or someplace crowded, are they going to be able to get to the tools? If somebody is right next to them having an overdose, what’s the situation going to prompt them to do? My thinking was there needed to be a solution available immediately in crowded public places and I didn’t see one. Therefore I thought, ‘Well, if we can’t get the people to the vending machines, then we gotta get the vending machines to the people.’” 

Enter the OpiSafe Narcan vending machine, which offers free Narcan as well as fentanyl/xylazine (“tranq”) test strips, to help determine if drugs are contaminated.  

Douglin says it’s very easy to administer the three-step Narcan process. “It’s the peel, place, push process. You peel off the back, fill up with the medication, take one of the plungers, put it in somebody’s nostrils and push the plunger up and wait one to two minutes to see if they have a reaction. If they don’t have a reaction, if they don’t start opening their eyes, you can use the other plunger. It is very, very easy to use.”

Though OpiSafe also offers a mounted vending machine for bars and restaurants and a portable harm reduction kit for other establishments, Douglin says OpiSafe vending machines are new to the festival space. In August, eight machines will be supplied to Bethlehem, PA’s Musikfest.

“We’re working with the festival coordinators, their health officials and the city Health Department to make sure that they’re placed in the perfect places.” Douglin says, noting that placement is key. Though there may be a medical tent, perhaps near the festival entrance, if there’s an overdose in the middle of the festival, EMTs may not be able to respond in time. 

Another additional incentive, Douglin points out, is that the vending machines may help lower insurance premiums with insurance underwriters seeing the machines as part of a harm reduction plan. The Narcan vending machines, Douglin says, “are only going to shed a positive light on your venue and say, ‘OK, this is a safe place for you to be.’”