ITHACA, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick will be taking questions about The Ithaca Plan during a live stream on The Ithaca Voice’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon.
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Here are four things you need to know about the controversial new drug program being proposed in the city before Thursday afternoon’s Q&A:
1) What is The Ithaca Plan?
The Ithaca Plan is a city-wide program created by a Municipal Drug Task Force, under the direction of Mayor Svante Myrick, following a rash of overdose deaths in Ithaca in 2014.
The committee met with hundreds of people — healthcare professionals, addicts, law enforcement, prevention experts — to create a four-pillar proposal meant to tackle addiction in Ithaca in a comprehensive way.
2) So why is it so controversial?
While there are a lot of reasons why the 60-page plan could be considered controversial, one part in particular has been splashed across national headlines: supervised injection facilities.
The injection sites would allow drug users to inject drugs without fear of being arrested. The sites would also provide users with access to health services and resources about how to get sober in Ithaca.
The argument against the facilities, some say, is that it could encourage drug use in Ithaca or make the city a “drug den” where addicts can use drugs with impunity.
Ithaca Police Chief John Barber said the police department is not currently in favor of the injection sites and will not “turn a bling eye” to drug use in the city.
In Vancouver, the only other city in North America where supervised injection facilities are legal, police temporarily turned a blind eye to the facilities while they were not officially sanctioned by the Canadian government.
Beginning in 2002, injection facilities operated in violation of federal law. They were given a “Section 56 exemption” to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act last year.
“We have those who are choosing to use drugs, regardless of the policing,” said Sgt. Randy Fincham of the Vancouver Police Department during a phone interview with The Ithaca Voice. “And we’re asking officers to turn a blind eye to that with the ultimate goal being public safety.”
3) What do I need to know about supervised injection facilities?
The first supervised injection site opened in Switzerland, in the 1980s. There are now about 90 safe injection sites in the world, according to the Australian Drug Foundation.
The only supervised injection sites in North America are located in Vancouver, which Ithaca officials say is where a lot of influence for The Ithaca Plan.
Supporters of the plan say the injection sites reduce addiction rates and stop the spread of diseases by providing clean needles for addicts. In turn, the crime rates in cities reportedly reduce as a result of the facilities.
For instance, an injection facility in Vancouver states that they had 9,259 unique individuals use the facility in 2012 and has 3,418 clinical treatment interventions.
According to a study by Health Canada, the equivalent of the United States’ Health Department:
“There was no evidence of increases in drug-related loitering, drug dealing or petty crime in areas around INSITE [A supervised injection facility]. Generally, European SISs have had similar experiences though some took additional security measures and one was closed due to littering and loitering.”
The study also states:
“Though a private security company contracted by the Chinese Business Association reported reductions in crime in the Chinese business district in a surrounding area outside the DTE, our analysis of police data for the DTE and surrounding areas showed no changes in rates of crime recorded by police. The majority of local residents, service providers, business owners and police did not notice any increases.”
4) How will the plan be implemented in Ithaca?
After The Ithaca Plan was announced in February, Myrick said the next step for The Ithaca Plan would be lobbying state officials to endorse legislation to make parts of The Ithaca Plan possible, such as the supervised injection sites.
Since then, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said she was drafting legislation that would legalize safe injection facilities.
Myrick previously said that he and Rosenthal had never met.
Myrick said that while some aspect of The Ithaca Plan will take place over the course of many years, others can be proposed for approval by Common Council within the next few months.
For instance, The Ithaca Plan calls for the creation of the Office of Drug Policy for the city. The office, Myrick has previously said, would create a timeline and help prioritize elements of The Ithaca Plan — a first step that will be important if any elements of The Ithaca Plan are put into effect.
Other proposals — such as the creation of a 24-hour crisis line that would give people information about addiction treatment, social services and health care — have to be planned considering funding, job creation, and location, among other aspects.
Myrick admits that its possible that some of the recommendations produced by the task force may never come to fruition.
“This is a plan, it’s not an edict,” Myrick said. “It doesn’t just come down from on high and say this will all happen on Thursday.”
Featured photo by Ed Dittenhoefer for the Ithaca Voice.
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