CAMPBELL COUNTY, Ky. — Eric Specht of Fort Thomas can remember the times he’d go fishing with his son, Nicholas, and what he was like before heroin entered his life.
"Growing up, he was really just a happy kid, intelligent kid, friendly kid, got along with other people and just likable,” he said. “The chaos that’s addiction, any addiction, but it’s even worse with opioids and alcohol — we were living through all of that.”
There was hope when Nicholas got into recovery.
“It was amazing, actually," Specht said. "His smile was back. His health was back. We got our son back. He was Nicholas again.”
But one night, three months later, Nicholas’ dog alerted Specht that something was wrong.
“I ended up going over to the bathroom door and it was locked and he had overdosed in there," he said. "He had relapsed and overdosed and that was it. We didn’t have another shot.”
Twelve miles from the Spechts' home, in Cincinnati, you’ll find a vending machine stocked with free items like fentanyl test strips, injection kits and Narcan, which is used to reverse overdoses.
Called a "harm reduction vending machine," it is a pilot project from Caracole, the AIDS service organization.
As of last month, more than 50 people had registered to use the machine, according to Caracole.
“We were concerned about people who need supplies, need safe injection kits, maybe a pregnancy test, safe smoking kits, Narcan in particular, fentanyl test strips after hours,” said Linda Seiter, the executive director.
A phone number on the machine connects to Caracole's harm reduction service coordinators. After answering questions in a survey, a caller will receive a client code, said Suzanne Bachmeyer, associate director of prevention.
“You put your client code in and choose the items that you want," she said. "You can get one of each item once per week.”
Asked what she would say to those who feel the program enables drug use, Seiter replied: "We hear that all the time and, you know, people can’t get better if they aren’t alive ... The idea is to help people stay alive and to inch them towards health.”
Specht told Spectrum News he would like to see a vending machine like that in Kentucky.
“I think that is a great idea," he said. "Why not? I mean, what’s the reason not to do that?”
Specht and his wife, Holly, didn’t know where to turn when Nicholas battled addiction so after his overdose, they started an organization called NKY Hates Heroin, Specht said.
They created and distributed thousands of copies of a resource guide and have helped connect families to Narcan and recovery services, he said.
Eight years after losing Nicholas, Specht thinks about what could have been.
“I surely wish that we had Narcan that night," he said. "I was eventually able to get that door open and if I had, had Narcan, who knows? I mean, truly, who knows?”
Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport), who represents Campbell County, said she is interested in learning more about the harm reduction vending machine. She said she sees it as a tool in the fight against overdoses and disease spread.