ITHACA, NY – On Wednesday, Ithaca officials will announce The Ithaca Plan — a four pillared approach proposed to combat heroin addiction in the city. One of the four pillars of the new drug policy is Prevention.

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“In 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,” explained Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.

The Ithaca Plan calls for supplementing existing prevention solutions, from 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous to D.A.R.E., which is taught in schools.

Myrick says that these programs alone aren’t sufficient because they assume that educating people on the dangers of drugs is enough to keep them from using.

“If that were true, there wouldn’t be a single cigarette smoker in America,” Myrick said. “Instead we have more people using drugs per capita than in the 1980s.”

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The new plan calls for attacking the underlying causes of drug abuse. Myrick says these causes are similar for many drug users and include facets such as  mental illness, anxiety, depression, boredom and alienation.

“What we are recommending is better mental health services, from a young age … If you can actually diagnose those problems and treat them with things prescribed by doctors or recommended therapy, then you can help people live happier and healthier lives,” Myrick said.

The other part of the prevention pillar is attacking the supply end of the drug trade. This involves taking measures to help keep people from falling into a life of dealing drugs.

Myrick says lack of education and lack of employment are among the main reasons people turn to dealing drugs for income.

While Ithaca’s boasts an overall low unemployment rate, Myrick says that the unemployment rate for teens and especially teens of color are quite high and that is an area where the city can improve.

More support for mentorship programs, apprenticeship programs and job placement programs are part of the city’s proposed plan to combat the problem.

“When we recommend more employment opportunities and apprenticeship programs, we’re not exactly talking about starting an entirely new program. We might just be investing more resources in programs that are already doing that work, like the Youth Bureau and the Learning Web,” Myrick said.

Office of Drug Policy

Myrick admits that some of these intangible issues are trickier to tackle. The city isn’t, for example, going to be able to mandate mental health screening for young people.

Part of the approach to addressing these problems will be the formation of a new Office of Drug Policy in the city.

Myrick explained, “That department’s job will be to pull together all the relevant sectors in this big comprehensive system into monthly meetings so that they can all share best practices, share recommendations and help each other do a better job.”

“Sitting at that table will be health care providers, mental health care providers and the people who pay for health services — everything from guidance counselors at schools to Tompkins County Department of Social Services — which often pays for these things — to private practitioners,” said Myrick.

Myrick says this approach is similar to a model used for the Continuum of Care Homeless and Housing Services Task Force, an initiative which has been active for the past couple of years.

Meetings of that task force bring together people that work in different areas of housing. “They keep checking for where the cracks are, where the gaps are, and seeing who can fill what gaps. That model has worked pretty well and we want to do that now with drug policy,” Myrick said.

This is just one of several “informal” approaches to helping people get treatment, Myrick says. “There are things that the city itself can’t directly do, but we’d like to urge the hospital to do, or urge the schools to do, or Cornell Univeristy and Ithaca College to do.”

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(Photo: Ed Dittenhoefer Photography for the Ithaca Voice)

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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.