Authors: Nicole Biton & Jeremy Candelas
It’s always exciting when Ithaca, our quiet city, gets a shout-out in the media. So imagine our excitement when “Ithaca, New York” appeared as one of Facebook’s top trending topics on Tuesday. But the reason for this attention is nothing if not controversial: Mayor Svante Myrick (‘09) announced his plan to establish the nation’s first supervised heroin injection site.
Here’s the story. Part of Mr. Myrick’s drug initiative called “The Ithaca Plan”, the treatment program has been in the works, with law enforcement officials and medical advisors discussing the plan over the last two years. The policy–modeled after a similar system in Vancouver–is founded on four basic pillars: Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement and Harm Prevention. With a facility like this, health and law enforcement officials could better understand the underlying causes of opioid use and be more involved in getting users treatment for their addictions so as to prevent a potential overdose.
Myrick’s “Ithaca Plan” does not come without context. Across the nation, there has been discussion between lawmakers and health officials of how to address the country’s growing drug and opioid epidemic. Accidental drug overdose remains the US’s leading cause of accidental death, with the number of heroin-related deaths rising six-fold between 2001 and 2014 according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. For Myrick, the issue takes on a personal dimension as well, having had a father who was an addict and seen how his family was affected by his addiction.
Where the plan draws criticism from opponents is in the idea that federally-employed staff would be assisting users in their use of heroin and other opioid drugs. Some argue that this would do more to facilitate drug usage in the local community rather than discourage it. Indeed, it seems counterintuitive to make methods for illicit drug use more accessible as an approach to diminishing drug abuse in our area.
But as unconventional as the proposal may seem, Myrick’s plan does present some logic. The plan does not propose establishing a facility for heroin abusers; it’s not the same thing as sponsoring recreational drug use in a dorm or a frat house. Rather, it proposes establishing a facility for heroin abusers who are seeking help. Proponents argue that decriminalizing, but not legalizing drug usage, in combination with the facility, would provide addicts without the proper resources to quit and means to safely receive treatment in a controlled environment. For Myrick and his collaborators, the plan ultimately is designed to ensure that overdoses and subsequent deaths are being accounted for — and potentially prevented.
Whether Myrick’s controversial plan will take hold remains to be seen. However, it is certainly an ambitious step in confronting the failures of the legal and healthcare systems when it comes to addressing the nation’s drug epidemic – especially when it comes to heroin. If successful, Myrick’s proposal would put Ithaca on the map as a leader in the crusade against drug addiction – and potentially save a number of lives as a result.