This article has been updated with quotes from Nicole Pagano, a member of the DIA board of directors and owner of Green Street Pharmacy.
Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s board of directors expressed strong support for Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 proposed drug plan at its May meeting, according to a DIA release.
The board — which is composed of business owners, downtown property holders and other Ithaca citizens — was unanimous in its decision to support of the Ithaca Plan, with only one abstention, according to DIA Executive Director Gary Ferguson.
The board expressed interest and optimism in its consideration of all of the policy’s four pillars — prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement — according to the release.
Myrick has noted on several occasions that because the plan provides for a controversial heroin injection site, other components of the proposal, which focus on treatment and decriminalization, have not received the consideration they are due.
Nicole Pagano, member of the DIA board of directors and owner of Green Street Pharmacy, said the policy would increase availability of resources to those who need them.
“[The plan] will cut down on the wait to get into rehab or treatment and allow more people seeking help to get it,” she said. “The plan calls for more involvement and mentoring of our youth, which has always been important to the DIA.”
As a health care provider, Pagano said her “biggest hope” is for the new plan to change the “way people see addiction.”
“It is currently seen as a social blight, but addiction is a disease,” she said. “As soon as we see it as that we can more effectively help and treat those in need.”
The DIA release also stressed the necessity of enlisting the Ithaca Police Department’s aid in order to successfully implement the policy.
“The illegal status of drug use will create hurdles for both police and the policy and may require measured, incremental steps,” the board said in a release.
Ferguson, a member of the Drug Task Force that proposed the Ithaca Plan to Myrick, said that different components of the policy will be be introduced and operate on different timelines.
While the majority of the plan will be implemented gradually over time, some parts — such as job training programs and ensuring safe needle disposal — will begin functioning immediately, according to Ferguson.
“In the plan, there are lots of different short, medium and long-term action steps that can be played out, and I think it’s important not to focus on one step, or just long term stuff, to the exclusion of everything else,” Ferguson said.
Board member Phyllisa DeSarno, Ithaca’s deputy director for economic development, said she believes Myrick’s plan will introduce necessary change to a system that currently promotes immediate incarceration after a violation of law.
“The police force sees [infractions] as just repetition that goes around and around in a circle,” DeSarno said. “No one is benefiting from that repetitive cycle. Something radical and profound has to take place.”
DeSarno also stressed that she believes the policy’s “most controversial” aspect — creating facilities where users can receive supervised injections of heroin — will be beneficial in reducing overdose-related deaths.
“As radical as that sounds to a lot of people, it is what will save lives,” she said. “And once you save a life, you can redirect it. You can’t redirect a life if their life has been taken by drugs.”
DeSarno added that she hopes Myrick’s bold plan will gain traction and attract serious consideration in other parts of the country.
“I’m only hoping that the rest of the country will take a look at this as a pilot program and go in the same direction as our mayor was brave enough to go in,” she said.