Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and a panel of local experts presented The Ithaca Plan in a press conference at Tompkins County Library on Wednesday morning.

February 28, 2016

Myrick’s Drug Policy Garners Mixed Reactions from Cornellians, Ithacans

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Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 controversial new drug policy plan — which proposes the implementation of the country’s first supervised heroin injection site — has been met with mixed reactions from both the Cornell and broader Ithaca community.

At these proposed injection facilities, drug users would be able to receive monitored injections of opioids to reduce the risk of overdose without the fear of arrest. The mayor’s plan is billed as focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment, as it will instruct police officers to direct users to the social service system rather than perpetuate incarceration for low-level offenses.

Several Cornellians expressed enthusiasm for the plan, saying they are hopeful about the larger changes the initiative could spark. Maria Chak ’18 said she appreciates the mayor’s efforts in reforming the system “from a punishment to a more rehabilitative framework.”

“For more than four decades, law enforcements have been arresting low-income, people of color for drug abuses but it has proven to have little effect,” Chak said. “Now, Mayor Svante’s proposal to implement supervised injections facility will provide the support for drug addictions and prevent the number of deaths related to an overdose.”

Shayra Kamal ’18 said she approves of how the plan takes a more holistic approach to reducing drug incidence, unlike other plans which she said can serve merely to discourage drug use.

“Myrick’s plan for prevention is rooted in identifying and combating the causes for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” Kamal said.

Despite the positive feedback from some students, others remain skeptical of the feasibility of the plan’s benefits. Kaitlyn Yong ’18 expressed concern that the supervised injection facilities could become a place for scenes of aggression.

“There’s no guarantee that these individuals will not do heroin outside these ‘injection facilities’ and these places could possibly be subject to violence or crime because they house these types of drugs,” Yong said.

Kamal agreed, saying she is concerned these facilities might take away the negative connotation of heroin use, tacitly supporting drug usage.

“Even if the facilities reduce the number of overdoses, opponents can point to these centers as encouraging increased drug use since users can consume drugs in a safe environment, which sets a precedent for implicitly sanctioning drug use,” Kamal said.

The plan would have little influence on Cornell students, because reports of heroin use have been consistently low at Cornell, according to Laura Santacrose, health initiatives coordinator at Cornell’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives — a center which aims to reduce the harms caused by substances including alcohol and other drugs.

“According to our most recent survey data, fewer than 1 percent of Cornell students used heroin in the past month and fewer than 2 percent have ever used it,” Santacrose said.

However, the plan has the potential to affect Ithaca’s business owners, who have experienced multiple incidents when drug users use store bathrooms to inject heroin, according to Kevin Cuddeback, owner of Gimme! Coffee.

Cuddeback has taken precaution to prevent his establishments from being used for this purpose by installing keyed bathroom door policies.

He said he supports the plan, because it will attend to “addiction as a mental health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”

“Incarceration is extremely costly and woefully ineffective as a rehabilitative force,” Cuddeback said.

Kassandra Frederique, New York state director at the Drug Policy Alliance — a national organization working to end the war on drugs — said that Ithaca business owners stand to gain by supporting the plan.

“The more effective the plan, the less likely people will be loitering under the influence in front of businesses, injecting in restaurant bathrooms, disposing of used syringes in trash receptacles that might prick their employees when they are clearing out the trash at the end of the night,” she said.

The plan would provide the police with more time to solve more serious crimes and so they would be able to “act as a resource for people in need,” Frederique said.

“Ithaca’s law enforcement community has clearly stated on multiple occasions throughout this process [that] this is largely a health issue and they want to connect people to services rather than arrest people, when appropriate,” she said.

Frederique also urged more cities throughout the United States to adopt their own unique drug plans.

“Sometimes broad-based policies are insufficient to deal with the realities and nuances in cities across the country,” she said. “What is so special about the Ithaca Plan is that Ithaca’s realities are what informed the Plan. Other municipalities in the United States should build the plan that works for them.”