February 22, 2016

EDITORIAL: Svante Myrick ’09: The Heroin Hero?

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To curb heroin overdoses in Tompkins County, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced Monday that he hopes the City of Ithaca will host the first supervised heroin injection facility in the United States. According to his proposal, at such a facility, heroin users would be allowed to inject themselves under the supervision of a nurse and be connected with recovery services. While Myrick worked to model his plan after similar facilities in Canada, Europe and Australia, the plan’s feasibility — given the significant legal and political hurdles to come — remains questionable.

While we find Myrick’s emphasis on prevention addiction through mental health professionals admirable, we question whether this is the correct solution in regards to heroin usage given the emphasis on creating an injection facility. Myrick has not yet identified how the facility will be funded — through tax dollars or otherwise. Also unexplained is why Myrick places such heavy emphasis on overdose prevention rather than dedicating all resources to preventing addiction in the first place.

On principle, giving individuals with long-time addictions a facility to be supervised while injecting, potentially preventing deaths and providing a place for treatment for those in need is backed up by several studies. Supervised injection facilities reduce overdose deaths, prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, increase the chance that users seek drug treatment and generally reduce street crime, according to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice in the United States. Myrick based his plan off the Insite Injection Facility in Vancouver, the only place of its kind in North America. Vancouver — a city of 600,000 people — being a significantly larger city than Ithaca — a city of 30,000 — had a much larger scale heroin issue, with Insite recording 376,149 injections in 2009 by 9,259 users. According to data released by the Canadian government, the facility costed $10.21 per visit and over $2.18 million to operate in 2007

The intentions behind Myrick’s proposal are undeniably in the right place: However, given the political and legal firestorm that will likely follow this plan, it is questionable whether Ithaca should be the testing ground for the first injection facility in the United States. While similar plans have worked internationally, the current political climate in the United States will likely not prove to be conducive to allowing an extremely radical measure in the war against drugs. Given what has been revealed about this plan, the City should reconsider whether such a plan is appropriate at this point in time.

  • Karen

    As a Cornell grad headed up to Ithaca in 2 weeksf with my daughter for a college tour – never mind. The people who live and work around this facility will have their lives changed, their property devalued. Instead of giving help to addicts – no question asked – for treatment, you will be drawing people to a town that helps them get further into the drug nightmare. Soon, more will follow, as will the dealers. If there is not safe way to smoke a cigarette without long term effects and smoking rooms are not existent, why would you help someone to shoot heroine into their veins?

    • Krysta

      Don’t let the idea of an injection facility scare you away from visiting or living in Ithaca! There are already a substantial number of addicts all throughout our community. The thing is, that currently they are using in unmanaged, public settings. Yes, this forces you to have to accept that heroin addiction is rampant in happy little Ithaca, but would you rather have to worry about getting poked by a dirty needle when you’re out in public? Or have people dying on the streets, and in public bathrooms? You can close your eyes as hard as you want, but addiction is everywhere and isn’t going away.

      Also, if you read some of the other, non-opinion pieces out there about his plan, you’ll see that making treatment more accessible is an enormous part of the plan; this facility is just the one piece that everyone wants to sink their teeth into because it’s the first of its kind in the US, and is not the “emphasis” of his plan. The actual focus of the plan is providing treatment over incarceration, and mental health treatment in conjunction with substance abuse treatment. Any professional treatment provider will tell you that almost all addicts suffer from mental illness, and providers often are forced to treat them as separate issues.

  • Abe ’14

    This is basically Season 3 of The Wire – Hamsterdam all over again. Bunny Colvin ended up getting torched for it, but maybe Myrick will have more luck.

    • Bill Chaisson

      Actually no, it isn’t. There was no supervision in “Hamsterdam” and no attempt to couple it with treatment.

      • Abe ’14

        Actually, the cops supervised Hamsterdam, at least to make sure that there was no violence going on. Of course they failed, but it’s all in the game.

        There were also initiatives to distribute clean needles, and I believe there was a community group that came in and offered rehab services at one point. But you’re right that there was no real “treatment” phase to Bunny’s plan.

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