Health problem? Just stop by the vending machine

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Vending machines are used to sell everything from bike helmets to prescription drugs to baby gear

A vending machine in Las Vegas dispenses free, clean needles to drug users

CNN  — 

From diapers to needles to bike helmets, vending machines have been rebuilt to go beyond breath mints and cold soda.

These automated dispensers have come a long way since their invention in the early 1800s. Although snacks and drinks remain the most common items you’ll find being dispensed, some are focusing on health, safety and medical items.

Here are a few you’ll find around the world.

Baby essentials, Long Island, New York

Even the most well-organized parents can’t plan for everything. WeGoBabies founder Vanessa Carrington found that out the hard way when her family got stuck in an airport and ran out of supplies.

Now, with a few taps on the LED screen and a credit card swipe, users of the machine she created can unlock access to items as small as a packet of baby formula or as big as a travel booster seat, all available 24/7. The first machine is scheduled to open in May at the Broadway Mall in Long Island, New York.

The creators of the high-tech machine hope to save parents some time by replacing off a frantic trip to a convenience store with a visit to a vending machine stocked with the essentials – before a baby meltdown.

Nursing supplies, Baltimore

For breastfeeding mothers, returning to work often means toting around a breast pump. The devices require tubes, valves, storage containers and a number of small pieces that can easily be forgotten.

A machine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore aims to support these breastfeeding moms. Vending machines in the employee lactation room sell nursing pump accessories, storage bottles, breast pads, nipple cream and other supplies.

Cycling helmets, Melbourne, Australia

Whether for exercise or sightseeing, locals and tourists alike populate Aussie roads, but local law requires that all cyclists keep their craniums covered.

If you find yourself wanting to take a spin near Southern Cross Station in Melbourne but forget your gear, just look for the vending machine run by the local bike share. For $5, you can select your helmet size and get a new blue helmet.

Prescription medications, various locations

If you don’t want to run to the store or you just can’t make it to the pharmacy during business hours, InstyMeds machines might have you covered.

Although the machine does not support refrigerated medications, virtually any other prescription can be distributed. As it’s accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the creators of the 1,500-pound secure automated pharmacy hope to provide a private and convenient option for patients to receive their medications.

After leaving a health care provider, consumers can use an identification number to receive their medication. The machine is linked to a secure electronic health database and monitored around the clock. The machines are in more than 200 locations in the US and abroad, including college campuses, emergency rooms, doctors offices, corporate and student wellness centers.

Condoms, tampons and more, University of California, Davis

On campus at the University of California, Davis, Activities and Recreation Center, students can find a vending machine that dispenses items such as condoms, tampons, pregnancy tests, Advil and the morning-after pill, or Plan B. It’s called the “Wellness To Go” Machine.

The machine’s debut came after students spent two years working with staff at the university’s student health and counseling center to make sexual health products readily available. Items are accessible whenever the building is open, from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. The vending machine offers an additional option for supplies such as contraception, which are also available at the student health center.

Needle exchanges, Las Vegas

Harm-reduction advocates have turned to vending machines to make clean supplies readily available for people who use injectable drugs.

Needle exchanges are not aimed at reducing the number of users, but advocates hope that providing clean needles will reduce the spread of diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, that can be contracted when people share needles.

At the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada, clean needle kits including syringes, alcohol swabs, a tourniquet and a disposal container for used syringes are offered free of charge. The machine is in a drug treatment center, and those who wish to have access must first register with Trac-B Exchange to sign up. The process does not involve any notification of law enforcement or a requirement to enter treatment.

First-aid supplies, coming to theme parks

The machines are still in development, but soon, visitors to some Six Flags theme parks won’t have to look far for first-aid supplies after an accident. RecMed, a vending machine company started by middle-school student Taylor Rosenthal, will offer consumers a quick option.

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    Toilet paper, Mexico

    Users can buy prepackaged first-aid kits for dealing with issues such as sunburns, cuts, blisters and bee stings, ranging in price from $5.99 to $15.95. Individual supplies like bandages, rubber gloves, hydrocortisone wipes and gauze pads are also for sale from $6 to $20.

    In Mexico and many other countries, individually wrapped toilet paper rolls can be purchased at over 6,000 vending machine locations. Prices at the Mexican machines range from 20 to 100 pesos, or about $1 to $5.

    Around the world, these machines, such as the Teggra dispenser, are popular enough that some ad agencies have put clients’ information on roll packaging. These two-ply tellers can be found at gas stations, bus terminals and shopping malls to help on those occasions when the stalls aren’t stocked.

    CNN’s Alvaro Pichardo contributed to this report.