Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 discussed the status of the Ithaca Plan — a comprehensive action plan created to address drug abuse in the city — with students and faculty at Willard Straight Hall Thursday afternoon.
Since it was proposed last February, the Ithaca Plan has garnered national and international media attention for its controversial proposal to implement supervised injection facilities. The proposed facilities would create safe spaces for heroin users to legally use heroin with medical supervision.
Myrick described the plan’s next steps, saying the proposal must be passed by New York State legislature before injection facilities get to be up and running, a goal which may take anywhere from one to 10 years to accomplish.
Myrick referenced his own experience, growing up with a father who struggled with drug abuse, as his motivation to address drug policy reform in Ithaca. He also criticized the infrastructure that enables the criminal justice system to handle drug abuse and addiction problems.
“I never really examined the [government’s] solution,” Myrick said. “My father’s been an addict for 30 years and he’s been arrested multiple times, however the arrests did not stop [his addiction].”
Myrick said he views drug abuse as a systemic problem, and recommended that those seeking to remedy it take a “smarter” approach.
“It wasn’t until I became mayor and was working with the head of the police department, watching people get arrested that I realized I was in charge of a system that was doing the same things to people that the system had done to my father,” he explained. “If you examine it on a national level, no one is doing it smarter or differently.”
Despite the attention the injection facilities have received, Myrick emphasized that the proposal would not be effective without the implementation of all four pillars of the Ithaca Plan — prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement.
The plan comes at a crucial time, with 78 people in the United States dying every day due to heroin and prescription opioid painkillers abuse this year, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The issue hits close to home, with 63 deaths in just Binghamton this year, according to Myrick.
“We are serious about stopping the harm that drugs are doing to people, to families and to communities,” Myrick said. “It forces people to become irrational people, drives them away from people they care about and takes a toll on their health.”
The Ithaca Plan proposes investing in mental health screenings at a younger age, redirecting law enforcement efforts toward rehabilitation rather than incarceration and creating easy access to healthcare at injection sites.
Myrick also called for a culture shift in addressing drug abuse to create effective solutions.
“People don’t use heroin because they think it’s going to end well, they use it because they are undergoing great pain,” Myrick said. “We need to address the underlying traumas.”
According to Myrick, reform has already been authorized in other areas since the Ithaca Plan was proposed. Vancouver and Seattle have implemented safe injection sites, Portugal has decriminalized all drugs and New York City has invested in research toward drug policy and effectiveness of safe injection sites.
“It is important to understand why [society] is the way we are, these solutions need to be reevaluated,” Myrick said.