ITHACA, NY – Ithaca’s bold new drug policy is calling for supervised heroin injection sites and heroin maintenance therapy, which are pieces of the four pillars of change proposed to happen in the city.

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For the past two years, Mayor Svante Myrick has been working with a committee including members of academia, law enforcement and drug recovery programs to put together a comprehensive new drug policy, dubbed “The Ithaca Plan.”

The policy is based on four distinct pillars that each deal with a different element of the drug problem in Ithaca, specifically focusing on opioids and heroin. The four pillars are: Prevention, Treatment, Law Enforcement and Harm Reduction.

This policy is modeled after one currently in use in Vancouver, British Columbia, that has seen positive results.

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A press conference unveiling more details about the plan will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 24 at the Tompkins County Public Library, BorgWarner Room, 101 E Green St, Ithaca, NY.

In attendance will be Mayor Svante Myrick, Ithaca Police Chief John Barber, Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson, Assistant Director of Prevention Services Lillian Fan, Don MacPherson Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and several other experts.

First Pillar: Prevention

“With prevention we’re going to figure out how to prevent people from using drugs in the first place by attacking the core causes of drug use and also attacking the main causes of drug distribution,” says Myrick.

Myrick says that the primary causes of drug use include things like mental illness, anxiety, boredom and alienation.

Myrick wants to work on treating the underlying reasons for drug use, rather than simply warning people about the dangers. Solutions would include more robust mental health services and more avenues of communication with mental health professionals to get people the help that they need before they turn to drugs.

Meanwhile, elements like lack of education and unemployment are what cause people to turn to drug distribution for income. Myrick looks to improve and provide more access to things like mentorship programs, apprenticeship programs and job placement programs to combat this.

Second Pillar: Treatment

One of the major problems with current drug treatment programs in Ithaca is that they are “abstinence only,” according to Myrick.

“These programs assume that if you’re ready to quit using drugs you’re ready to white knuckle it and just give it all up,” Myrick says.

He suggests that some people need treatments like methadone or suboxone or, perhaps most controversially, heroin maintenance therapy in order to overcome their addictions.

Heroin maintenance therapy would allow a person to see a medical professional for a dose of heroin, meant to curb the crime rates involved with addiction and increase people’s access to programs to help them get sober.

Third Pillar: Law Enforcement

The Voice has previously reported on the Seattle model of drug enforcement, known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD.

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Myrick hopes to adopt the tenets of this plan for Ithaca’s police force, which would help put addicts in treatment instead of in jail.

“The drug war itself is a complete failure,” Myrick said, in large part because of its focus on incarceration as opposed to treatment.

Fourth Pillar: Harm Reduction

The fourth pillar, Myrick says, is the hardest for a lot of people to understand. The idea behind harm reduction is to acknowledge the fact that people use drugs, yet it is the humane and compassionate choice to find ways to keep them safe and alive long enough to get treatment.

Myrick hopes to establish a 24-hour crisis center where addicts can go if they are worried they might overdose or are facing withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, Myrick hopes to adopt a model used in Vancouver: supervised injection facilities, where a person can go and use heroin under medical supervision.

According to Myrick, there have been over 2 million uses at such facilities and not a single fatal overdose.

More to come

This is a developing story. Keep checking The Ithaca Voice for in-depth coverage of every aspect of this proposed policy.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.