February 25, 2016

EDITORIAL: Towards a Healthier Community

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Beyond a supervised heroin injection facility, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 proposed drug policies include opening an Office of Drug Policy and establishing a law enforcement program that diverts drug users into a social service system instead of jail.

These polices are detailed in The Ithaca Plan, which recognizes that the current system has not been effective in addressing heroin use. At a press conference on Wednesday, Myrick said, “The war on drugs … has failed.” His attempt at finding a better approach — by forming a municipal drug strategy committee and engaging over 200 Ithacans for the past two years — is bold and community-oriented.

However, several concerns remain regarding the proposal’s cost and legality. The Ithaca Plan contains no mention of cost or sources of funding. For a city whose budget is “finally reaching stability,” the financial burden of Myrick’s new proposals must be carefully assessed before any work to implement the injection facility begins. Additionally, the Ithaca Plan proposes no system to review its progress. Few statistics are available on specific rates of heroin use and overdose in Ithaca and Tompkins County. With little data of the current situation to compare to, how will the City of Ithaca and its citizens be able to critically evaluate whether this new system works? This is just one of many questions that the lofty Ithaca Plan does not answer.

Despite these concerns, the proposal remains an ambitious initiative that will make Ithaca one of the nation’s leaders in combating drug use — an issue that we can no longer afford to ignore. Nationally, opioid overdose rates doubled from 2000 to 2014 and heroin overdose rates tripled from 2010 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local trends mirror this national pattern. Between 2012 and 2015, the Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services saw a 126 percent increase in number of people being treated for heroin addiction, according to The Ithaca Journal. Cornell is not isolated from these troubles. Not only do heroin-related incidents occur on campus — for instance, Cornell Police arrested a man for the possession of 250 bags of heroin last year — but also, the health of our local community and the health of our university are strongly tied.

Admitting that the current system has failed to combat heroin use is a courageous step, but it is only the first of many. Community members — including Cornellians — must remain critical of and engaged with implementing the Ithaca Plan for this comprehensive proposal to truly improve the health and safety of our community.