Ithaca’s mayor, Svante Myrick plans to open the first safe heroin site in the United States. He takes the example from Vancouver’s drug supervision injection site called ‘Insite,’ where medical staff supervises the intake of heroin that a user ingests, provides counseling for addiction treatment and prepares the necessary procedures in the event of an overdose.
Myrick believes that this on site care could be a new comprehensive approach to the repressive upstate New York addiction. The Municipal Drug Committee and Myrick launched, “The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy.”
The Hot Zone USA had the incredible opportunity to speak with Mayor Myrick on his new plan.
Q: How would you manage the facility and the heroin intake of the user?
A: All you need is one room where folks come in, and we make sure we have clean equipment, like clean needles an syringes. That’s important because it cuts down on your HIV transmission. But, then they would use as they would, but instead of doing it in a back alley or a gas station bathroom, they could do it in an environment where if they over dose, we can save their lives. After they use, we’re able to have conversations about treatment with them
Q: Do you think kind of facility will attract people who are currently using, or do you think it’s going to be considered more of an option?
A: You know what they found in Vancouver, Switzerland and Australia is that, this is a service that’s used by a small percentage of existing users. You know, people who live alone or homeless. Folks who want to get better, but are having a hard time kicking, so it’s not the entire population of users in the community, it’s just that small segment.
Q: When did you start to notice the amount of heroin being used in Ithaca? Can you name any specific instances?
A: It’s been for the last 6 years. It’s been one tragic story after another. I mean at one point in 2004, we lost three people. Each death is a wake up call. Each one is more tragic than the one before it. We just lost a woman last month, who had gone to detox, and she came out and was waiting to begin a rehab program, and she relapsed. She took a dose that she couldn’t handle because her system wasn’t used to it. She overdosed and she died.
Q: Was she a homeless woman or was she a student?
A: She was a working professional. You wouldn’t believe the range of folks who are using. People who work in kitchens, people who drive for a living and educators.
Q: Obviously isn’t the only city who has a large amount of users, a lot of other upstate areas are also packed with users. Why do you think its prevalent in upstate? Do you think the other towns will follow suit if Ithaca introduces this facility?
A: Well, I think it’s prevalent for a lot of reasons. It could do with people being in pain or feeling isolated. It could be from emotional, mental and physical pain. It’s all over the country right now. I think other communities will follow our lead.
Q: Are the patients able to leave the facility after they use? Will you be allowing intravenous use of the drug?
A: Yes, they are able to leave after they use. Yes, we will be allowing intravenous use. It’s very similar to the facility in Vancouver called Insite, where all you have is a nurse and a medical practitioner on hand.
Q: Are incarcerated addicts going to have an opportunity to enter the facility?
A: What you do want to make available in the jails is medicated treatment, so we could minimize the withdrawal symptoms.
Q: Do you think there should be more research done on the topic of increased amounts of heroin usage around the country?
A: Yeah, for sure. Our young people are falling into the trap at very young ages. We need to do more educations, in terms of prevention, but education alone is not enough. We have to get a lot more treatment, health care treatment and mental health care treatment.
Q: Does this facility only cover heroin, or other opiates in the family as well?
A: Intravenous opiate use. The idea is, if somebody is going to shoot up, they’re going to do it in a gas station bathroom. We rather they walk in and say, “Listen, I’m a user,” instead of shooting up in the Sunoco.
What do you think of Mayor Myrick’s new plan?