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Proposed Supervised Injection Facility Stirs Controversy in Ithaca

By Kerry Longobucco.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick (D) has made national headlines for his proposal to open a supervised injection facility for heroin users. On Wednesday morning, he spoke about that controversial piece of his plan to address addiction -- and local leaders had their say.

At the proposed supervised injection facility, visitors would use pre-purchased heroin with clean needles under the supervision of nurses -- without fear of police prosecution.

"Do something. If we continue to do what we've done the last 40 years, people will continue to die in our community," Myrick said.

The proposed facility would be the first of its kind in the United States -- modeled after ones that exist in countries like canada.

"They're successful. They do what they're meant to do, which is to bring people in from the cold," Donald MacPherson, director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said. "And to help keep people alive, so they can access other parts of the healthcare system."

Some call the plan a common-sense approach.

"Everytime I go to a meeting about the heroin crisis, I hear "People are dying, we need to do something." If we had medical personnel there while people are injecting, they would be able to prevent those overdoses," John Berry, of the Southern Tier AIDS Project, said.

Myrick responded to those who say this plan would enable addicts.

"To say that we're somehow enabling people, just because we create a place where they won't overdose, I think, misunderstands addiction," Myrick said.

The mayor vowed not to back down -- but he'll have to move forward without the support of his area's two highest ranking law enforcement officials.

"From my position as the chief of police, I cannot support it and condone it, because it's not legal," Ithaca Police Chief John Barber said. "It's not lawful."

"For me, having been touched by four people in my life that -- three of them with alcohol, and one with prescription drugs, first of all, you have to admit you have a problem," Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing (D) said. "That's number one, and I don't see you being able to convince somebody they have a problem if they're going to be able to continue to use drugs."

Actually opening such a facility may be an uphill battle legally -- Myrick acknowledged the city would need state approval, and likely federal approval as well.

Myrick's 'Ithaca Plan' also calls for a methadone clinic, additional local treatment resources, and a program where police officers would guide users toward social services rather than jail.