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Proposed bill would make supervised injection sites legal in NY

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)
Downtown Ithaca.

A demonstration of what a supervised injection facility for heroin users would look like has been making its way across cities in New York state. The sites would allow someone to use the drug under medical supervision. To make it a reality, the state would need a new law.

New York City Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said she will be introducing legislation in the next couple of weeks for legal injection facilities.

"We've tried so many different approaches to drug addiction in New York and around the states and nothing is working properly and we need to try a different approach," Rosenthal said. "It's been in 60 cities around the globe for years. We're just late to this. It's been in European countries and it's working. People don't die in safe injection facilities. They live because it is safe. There are personnel there who can help them. It can lead to sobriety and the road to recovery."

Rosenthal said it’s a learning process to get other Assembly members on board.

“Because at first blush, you get the same reaction that you got 20 years ago when the idea of syringe exchange facilities were first announced," Rosenthal said. "People said you’re just enabling drug users.”

Rosenthal said syringe exchanges have been successful in lowering the risk of disease transmission which she said injection facilities could also do. But some questions remain.

Ithaca has been at the center of the debate after Mayor Svante Myrick voiced his support last year. Ithaca Police Department Public Information Officer Jamie Williamson said he thinks most police are against the injection facilities.

"When we took this job, we said that we're going to enforce every law," Williamson said. "We can't just not arrest somebody because they're on their way to a heroin injection facility if they're in possession of heroin. When people complain to us about drug dealers, we have not just the right but probably the responsibility to go down and monitor the area, make arrests when appropriate. I don't think it's any different than that if we get complaints that people are hanging around the heroin injection facility or are on their way there. If they're on their way there, they're probably going to shoot up so they likely are in possession of heroin."

Rosenthal said she envisions police taking addicts to treatment rather than jail.

"That's something we have to work out because what's the point of throwing them in jail?" Rosenthal asked. "So then they'll get out of jail and still be addicted and have substance use problems?"

She said the bill will also include immunity clauses to protect from legal liability in case someone dies in a facility. The bill faces an uphill battle. It would need to pass the Assembly, the Senate, and all of this hinges on what Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks about it. Rosenthal said Cuomo may be on board. He's accepted the recommendations of a study to end the AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020. One recommendation included injection facilities.

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.