Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2016
Source: Ithaca Times (NY)
Copyright: Ithaca Times 2016


The national media, yea, the international media is abuzz about the 
proposed legal heroin injection facility that is included in the 
"Ithaca Plan" released by the Municipal Drug Policy Committee (MDPC) 
put into motion by Mayor Svante Myrick. The focus is on the "shooting 
gallery" because, as U.S. law stands now, it would be illegal to set 
up such a place without the declaration of an emergency by the 
governor or the President.

Isn't it just like the national and international media to make a big 
deal about something that has so much prurient interest and yet is 
really just a small part of a much broader, more ambitious, more 
practical campaign?

Perhaps by emphasizing the least possible element of the plan, they 
hope to send the whole thing into the weeds?

Why do that?

The Ithaca Plan does something mighty: it calls off the War on Drugs.

President Richard Nixon coined the term in a June 1971 press 
conference and 44 years later we are still fighting and losing this 
ridiculous "war." The text of the plan acknowledges this historical 
context on its opening page: "There is a growing acknowledgement 
among policymakers that the war on drugs-the dominant drug policy 
framework for the past four and a half decades-has failed and new 
approaches are needed." Myrick didn't invent this out of whole cloth, 
but he is getting on board a progressive movement to change the 
approach to dealing with our perennial drug problem.

Drugs have always been ubiquitous and for centuries were largely 
unregulated. One of the first comprehensive pieces of legislation, 
Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, continued to allow cocaine, heroin, 
cannabis, and other such drugs to be legally available without 
prescription as long as they were labeled.

We have long struggled with whether to consider drug use and 
addiction a public health problem or a crime.

In August 1969 psychiatrist Robert DuPont urine-tested everyone 
entering the jails of Washington, D.C. He found that 44 percent of 
them tested positive for heroin.

A month later he started the first public methadone treatment program.

The official perspective on drug use as had multiple-personality 
disorder since.

The organizing principle of the Ithaca Plan has four "pillars": 
prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement. The MDPC, 
inaugurated in September 2014, includes law enforcement 
officials-district attorney Gwen Wilkinson, police chief John Barber, 
judge Judy Rossiter-but it also listed among its members the leaders 
of local non-profits who deal with populations impacted by illegal 
drug use: Lillian Fan of Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP), Liz Vance 
of the Ithaca Youth Bureau, Angela Sullivan of the Alcohol and Drug 
Abuse Counsel, Marcia Fort, Travis Brooks and Leslyn 
McBean-Clairborne of GIAC, Judy Hoffman of the Ithaca City School 
District, among others.

Bill Rusen of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) was the 
original chair of the MDPC; Wilkinson and Fan took over as co-chairs 
in February 2015.

The second part of the 58-page final report of the MDPC (The Ithaca 
Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy) 
is called "The Scope of the Problem in Ithaca." In this chapter the 
committee drags together what meager statistics exist locally to 
document the scale of drug use here. They present property crimes in 
the city of Ithaca and in Tompkins County, which have been rising 
steadily since 2005 (because addicts steal to raise money for drugs). 
Drug law violation arrests, however, have been generally fallen over 
the same period in the city-after Myrick asked the police to make 
marijuana arrests a low priority- and generally increased in the county.

In 2010 the Controlled Substance Act was amended to make procuring 
prescription drugs illegally much more difficult.

People taking Oxycontin, Vicodin and other opiate-based painkillers, 
suddenly could no longer get the pharmaceuticals to which they were 
addicted; they turned to cheaper, more available heroin in droves.

Between 2011 and 2013 in Monroe County, where the medical examiner's 
office keeps death statistics, four out of five heroin overdose 
deaths are white males with an average age of 35 years old. Most of 
the victims were from outside the city of Rochester.

We don't know as much about the demographics of our local opioid 
problem because there is no public record of who overdoses or dies 
from what. The county health department was able to provide the MDPC 
with numbers for "drug-related deaths" between 2004 and 2014. They 
jumped from between one and eight per year before 2010 to between 10 
and 15 per year after.

Given our relatively small population (104,000 in the whole county), 
we are experiencing more drug-related deaths per 100,000 residents 
than Onondaga County (467,000 residents) in every year since 2005.

The MDPC documents the dearth of drug treatment available locally: 
very few Suboxone prescribers, no methadone clinic, no detox 
facilities, and a long line for treatment programs, which demand that 
you enter clean and sober and remain abstinent.

It addresses the limited availability and access to education 
programs designed to prevent young people from slipping into chronic 
drug use and explores the shortcomings of law enforcement as a tool, 
including accusations of structural racism.

The proposed supervised injection facility comes under the "harm 
reduction" domain.

STAP's needle exchange program is the most prominent harm reduction 
program in place, but the MDPC found that few local people understand 
the concept of harm reduction.

Not only does the public needed to be educated about illegal drugs so 
they won't start taking them, but they need to be educated about who 
takes drugs and why.

The MDPC suggests we treat illegal drug use as primarily a public 
health problem, with law enforcement playing only a supporting role. 
It is time to lay down our arms.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom