Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2016
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: David Klepper


Albany, N.Y. (AP) - The mayor of Ithaca wants his city in upstate New 
York to host the nation's first supervised injection facility, 
enabling heroin users to shoot illegal drugs into their bodies under 
the care of a nurse without getting arrested by police.

Canada, Europe and Australia are working to reduce overdose deaths 
with these facilities, but in the United States, even the idea of 
creating a supervised injection site faces significant legal and 
political challenges.

That has to change and quickly, said Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

"My father was a drug addict. He split from the family when I was 5, 
6 years old," the mayor, now 28, explained in an Associated Press 
interview. "I have watched for 20 years this system that just doesn't 
work. We can't wait anymore for the federal government. We have 
people shooting up in alleys. In bathroom stalls. And too many of 
them are dying."

Myrick said he will ask New York's Health Department to declare the 
heroin epidemic a state health crisis, which he said would enable his 
city to proceed without involving the state legislature. The mayor 
described his proposal to the AP ahead of a formal announcement 
planned for Wednesday.

Once dismissed as a radical idea, injection sites are increasingly 
being discussed in response to huge increases in overdose deaths 
nationwide. In New York state, overdose deaths involving heroin and 
other opiates shot from 186 in 2003 to 914 in 2012.

Ithaca alone had three fatal overdoses and 13 non-fatal overdoses in 
a three-week span in 2014, prompting city officials to begin looking 
at alternatives to simply jailing addicts. The city of 30,000, which 
hosts Cornell University and Ithaca College, is one of New York's 
most liberal communities and is a prime candidate for new approaches, 
Myrick said.

Nurses or physicians could quickly administer an antidote if and when 
a user overdoses, and addicts also could get clean syringes and be 
directed to treatment and recovery programs, according to the mayor, 
who envisions a holistic approach that deals with addiction more like 
a public health issue than a criminal justice problem.

Myrick crafted his plan in collaboration with police and prosecutors, 
overcoming initially strong opposition from the elected district 
attorney, Gwen Wilkinson.

"What brought me around was the realization that this wouldn't make 
it more likely that people will use drugs," Wilkinson said. "What it 
would do is make it less likely that people will die in restaurant bathrooms."

Police Chief John Barber is not totally convinced. He "firmly" 
supports other parts of the plan, but said "I am wary of supervised 
injection sites."

Spokesmen for the Department of Health and Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't 
respond Monday to the AP's request for comment. Cuomo has supported 
needle exchange programs and boosted funding for addiction prevention 
and treatment, but has yet to take a position on supervised injection.

Some pieces of Ithaca's plan don't need state approval, such as the 
creation of a new city office of drug policy and a youth 
apprenticeship program to give young people alternatives to drugs. 
Myrick also wants police to send low-level drug offenders to 
treatment instead of jail, adopting a strategy used in Seattle.

Canada's first injection facility, known as "Insite," opened in 
Vancouver in 2003. Every day, 800 users visit, and between 10 and 20 
of them overdose each week, but no one has ever died there, according 
to Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer at Vancouver 
Coastal Health, which operates it.

"These overdoses are completely reversible," Daly said. "People die 
because they inject alone."

Insite receives most of its funding from government now, but faced 
significant initial opposition from officials in Ottawa.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom