Ithaca residents who've seen Mayor Myrick's Harm Reduction approach in action say it's the way to go

February 23, 2016 by Rachel Cera

Mayor Svante Myrick's announced plan to reduce the harmful impact of drug addiction includes a "supervised injection site," and it's stirred up quite a controversy. Area residents who've seen the approach in action elsewhere, though, say it works.

The Mayor says he's unveiling "a public health and safety approach to drugs and drug policy" on Wednesday, in conjunction with Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson and area experts and law enforcement personnel including Chief of Police John Barber.

According to a statement, Mr. Myrick "brought together agencies as diverse as the Ithaca Police Department, the local syringe exchange, and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. Over 350 Ithaca community members, officials, and stakeholders eagerly participated in the process motivated by their direct personal experiences with the ravages of addiction, policing, overdose and racial discrimination."

Under the plan, Ithaca would establish a Supervised Injection Facility. According to the statement, SIFs "are controlled health care settings where people can more safely inject drugs under clinical supervision and receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment. SIFs have been rigorously studied and found to reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths, and improperly discarded injection equipment, and to increase public order, access to drug treatment and other services, and to save taxpayer money."

"Addiction is not a crime," says an emergency services provider who works in Ithaca and has responded in drug cases. "These people are not garbage. Somewhere along the way they stumbled and made poor life choices." This provider, who prefers to remain anonymous but wants to speak up after losing friend and family to heroin addiction, says to detractors, "Not everyone has the fortitude, education, social safety net, family support you have."

Cornell student Kurt Fritjofson, who has studied the topic, tells 14850 Magazine, "Decriminalization reduces the burden drug addiction places on public health, and it prevents the most impressionable among us from becoming hooked in the first place, since they get to see the ugly reality of it up close." He adds that with so-called harm reduction programs, such as a similar facility in Portugal, "the incidences of HIV infection and drug-related deaths fell dramatically; additionally, usage between the key demographic of 14-26 fell substantially."

Fritjofson says he's proud of Mayor Myrick "for taking a leap of faith and working to combat drug addiction in a less draconian manner than the failed, 45-year-old 'War on Drugs' has done."

An area resident who has visited Vancouver's Insite facility says, "Overdose deaths have plummeted and the numbers of people being referred to treatment has risen."

Mayor Myrick declined to comment on the success of similar programs elsewhere for this article.

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