Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2016
Source: Times-Tribune, The (Scranton PA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: David Klepper, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)


In New Approach, City Plans to Treat Addiction As Public Health Issue.

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.

The son of an addict who abandoned his family, Ithaca Mayor Svante 
Myrick is only 28 years old, but knows intimately how destructive 
drugs can be. As he worked his way from a homeless shelter into the 
Ivy League at Cornell University and then became Ithaca's youngest 
mayor four years ago, Mr. Myrick encountered countless people who 
never got the help they needed.

"I have watched for 20 years this system that just doesn't work," Mr. 
Myrick explained in an Associated Press interview. "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."

Describing his proposals to the AP ahead of a formal announcement 
planned for Wednesday, the mayor said creating a place where addicts 
can inject heroin safely is a key part of a holistic approach to drug 
abuse that Ithaca will be rolling out, one that treats addiction more 
like a public health issue than a problem for the criminal justice 
system to solve. Nurses or physicians could quickly administer an 
antidote if a user overdoses, while addicts also could get clean 
syringes and be directed to treatment and recovery programs, he said.

Hard sell

Mr. Myrick expects supervised injection sites to be a hard sell in 
Albany, let alone in Washington, D.C., but his political 
sensibilities reflect what polls show is a growing belief among 
younger Americans that the war on drugs announced in 1971 by 
President Richard Nixon has failed.

"I think for a lot of people this is going to sound like a weird 
concept - 'Aren't you just encouraging them to use drugs?"' he said. 
"But I think it's more possible now than at any time in our history. 
The opioid epidemic is affecting more people and we know we can't 
wait any longer for the federal government to do something."

Canada, Europe and Australia are already working to reduce overdose 
deaths with these facilities. In the United States, even the idea of 
creating a supervised injection site faces significant legal and 
political challenges. But Mr. Myrick sees an opening now 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.

Alternatives to jail

Ithaca officials began looking seriously at alternatives to simply 
jailing addicts after the city had three fatal overdoses and 13 
nonfatal overdoses in a three-week span in 2014. The city of 30,000, 
which hosts Ithaca College as well as Cornell, is one of New York's 
most liberal communities and is a prime candidate for new approaches, 
Mr. Myrick said.

Mr. 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," Ms. Wilkinson said. "What 
it would do is make it less likely that people will die in restaurant 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom