Upstate NY Mayor Proposes Injection Sites For Heroin Addicts

‘Too Many Of Them Are Dying’: NY Mayor Proposes Bold Response To Heroin Crisis

An upstate New York mayor is proposing a bold and radical new tool to use against the nation’s growing heroin crisis: the first supervised injection facility in the United States.  Svante Myrick, the Democratic Mayor of Ithaca, New York  told the Associated Press that his city can no longer await a state or federal solution to the epidemic that is now claiming tens of thousands of lives nationally each year:

“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.” 

The proposition — expected to be formally announced this week — comes after the mayor’s collaboration with law enforcement and local prosecutors. Along with safe injection sites, the city is seeking to treat users and addicts rather than simply incarcerate them. The injection sites would provide clean needles for heroin users, be staffed with nurses capable of administering Naloxone — an opiate overdose reversal drug that is being used in fourteen states to provide emergency resuscitation by law enforcement to users who overdose on heroin.

Similar Heroin Injection Sites Have Existed in Canada Since 2003.

Vancouver, Canada first approved the opening of the Insite Supervised Injection Site in 2003 as a response to the spread of the HIV virus among illicit hypodermic drug users. Since opening it’s doors, the clinic’s impact in the Vancouver community has saved countless lives and directed addicts to a cleaner, healthier and drug-free lifestyle. Per the Vancouver Sun:

 A recently released report summarizing 15 years of data on the drug situation in Vancouver provides further evidence that harm reduction programs have helped reduce illicit drug use and improve public health: fewer people are injecting drugs; more are accessing addiction treatment; and HIV transmission related to injection drug use has plummeted.

The Chief Medical Health Officer at Insite points out that though there are between 10 and 20 overdoses there each week, nobody has ever died:

“These overdoses are completely reversible. People die because they inject alone.”

Mayor Expects Uphill Battle .

Despite the tangible evidence of the epidemic’s expansion and the proven track record of safe injection sites, Mayor Myrick doesn’t anticipate an easy sell in the state capitol.

“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? ‘ 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.”

Ithaca’s youngest, and first African-American mayor may be right about the timing of such a proposal, however. As the New York Times noted in October, attitudes towards drug treatment are evolving, and a “broad consensus seems to be emerging: The drug problem will not be solved by arrests alone, but rather by treatment.” 

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We can only imagine what our communities would look today like if these social attitudes rejected the ill-conceived “War on Drugs” following President Richard Nixon’s 1971 declaration that narcotics were “Public Enemy Number One”, or even worse, the Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws that Republican New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed to passage in 1972. Speaking to The Times, Columbia University Law School’s  Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw summed up the dichotomy brilliantly:

“This new turn to a more compassionate view of those addicted to heroin is welcome, but one cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for African-Americans caught up in addiction and the behaviors it produces, the devastating impact of mass incarceration upon entire communities would never have happened.”

Still, there is little use crying over spilled milk while every community is suffering from heroin and opioid addiction. We have a Democratic candidate for President who wants to decriminalize marijuana.  Many Republicans have called for softening criminal penalties for drug users. There is no doubt that our collective attitudes are changing. The time is right for creative and proven solutions to this deadly epidemic.

And it would be poetic justice if the city of Ithaca were the first in the nation to take such a dramatic step, less than 200 miles west of the Albany statehouse where the most vicious and destructive drug laws our nation has seen were passed over forty years ago.

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