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.