In his latest battle against the opioid epidemic in Ithaca, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 penned a letter to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo last week requesting approval from the State Department of Health of a supervised drug injection pilot program.
According to a copy of the letter shared with The Sun, Myrick said that the inspiration behind his letter was a letter sent to Gov. Cuomo by New York City Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio earlier this month requesting the approval of four similar injection sites in the city.
According to The New York Times, there were 1,441 overdose deaths in New York City in the past year.
In Tompkins County, there were 55.3 per 100,000 overdose-related emergency room visits and 15.2 per 100,000 overdose-related hospitalizations in 2016, Myrick wrote.
Furthermore, he said that 2017 was the “deadliest year for fatal overdoses on record” in Ithaca. In fact, the Ithaca Police Department responded to a suspected eight heroin overdoses over the period of two weeks in March 2017, The Sun previously reported.
“The overdose crisis is statewide and the pilot intervention should be too,” Myrick wrote to Cuomo. “This epidemic is also a rural epidemic and our solutions will need to address that reality. Start with Ithaca.”
There are currently no safe injection sites in the United States, according to The New York Times. However, they have been “considered successful” in Canadian and European cities and leaders in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Seattle have expressed intentions to create such sites as well.
Katharine Celentano, a New York Policy Office policy coordinator, emphasized that fatal overdose deaths are “completely preventable” in a panel at Cornell in March.
According to Myrick’s letter, the Ithaca Municipal Drug Policy Committee recommended in February 2016 that a supervised consumption pilot program should be implemented in Ithaca.
“We need a drug policy to make sure that we are responding in a more humane and more equitable way,” Myrick said when he first revealed “The Ithaca Plan” in a press conference in February 2016, The Sun previously reported.
However, one of the obstacles to such a program is that the sites potentially violate federal laws. There is a “crack house statute” within a section of federal law that “makes it illegal to own, rent or operate a location for the purpose of unlawfully using a controlled substance,” according to The New York Times.
When the Ithaca Plan was announced in 2016, Myrick said he advocated for a change to such laws in order to allow for the creation of safe, supervised injection sites.
“At the time, I publicly endorsed this recommendation [made by the Ithaca Municipal Drug Policy Committee] and called for NYS to change its laws and regulations to allow such a program to come into existence,” Myrick wrote in his letter.
“I will tell you that every law we have ever passed to make drugs illegal and then punish people for using them was intended to take subsets of folks out of the economy, out of the voting booths and lock them away,” Myrick said at a community forum in September 2017.
According to The New York Times, Cuomo has not yet publicly stated whether or not he supports injection sites, but the state health department did say it would review New York City’s request.
The New York City injection sites, which would be called Overdose Prevention Centers, would include trained staff to administer medications to counteract overdoses along with social workers to help with counseling services, according to The New York Times.
According to Myrick’s letter, the pilot program in Ithaca would be located within the existing Southern Tier AIDS Program.
STAP’s services “include syringe exchange, harm reduction counseling, overdose prevention, and prescribing and monitoring of Buprenorphine,” Myrick wrote.
The pilot program will be operated by the Research for a Safer New York Inc non-profit, which STAP helped to form, according to Myrick’s letter. STAP has also been collaborating in syringe exchange programs with four New York City based programs, Myrick stated in his letter.
“It took a decade from the state authorizing syringe exchange in 1992 until the opening of Ithaca’s syringe exchange in 2002. We cannot wait a decade again,” Myrick urged Cuomo.