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Ithaca proposes a safe place for heroin addicts to use in new drug plan

The City of Ithaca is proposing a plan to address the heroin crisis that includes a health facility where addicts would be allowed to use the drug under supervision. A panel of law enforcement, healthcare providers and business leaders who helped write the plan all agree that something has to change.

Inspired by similar plans in Europe and Canada, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said the supervised injection facility is meant to get heroin users off the street and to a safe place.

“If your goal is treatment and recovery, then you’re first priority is to keep people alive,” Myrick said.

The idea is to reduce used needles on the streets and to have a healthcare professional onsite in case someone who is using heroin overdoses.

“That person has family and friends and potential," Myrick said. "That person has the potential to recover whether they’ve been using for a week or for 20 years. That person has the opportunity to recover, but they cannot recover if they die from an overdose.”  

But implementing something like this would require changes to state or federal laws. Myrick said he will be aggressively lobbying lawmakers. He is hopeful they and Governor Andrew Cuomo will sign on when they see the statistics that show proposals like these reduce overdose deaths and street crimes. The proposal has been met with criticism but Myrick said the war on drugs has failed and a new strategy needs to be taken.

"We live our nightmare everyday and we act like it's the only way," Myrick said. “Parents who lose their children need to know that their children did not have to die; that there are other methods. Reactionaries and elected officials who are too afraid to tell the truth and too afraid of the science are the ones who stand between them and the people that can save their lives.”  

One priority that could come to Ithaca soon is to open a methadone clinic since the closest one is in Syracuse. Other parts of the plan include creating an Office of Drug Policy, having law enforcement direct users to social services instead of taking them to jail and establishing a 24-hour crisis center. There is also the idea of heroin assisted treatment as a last resort.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.