US

New York Could Become First State With Supervised Heroin Injection Facility

REUTERS/David Ryder/Files

Carly Rolph Contributor

Ithaca, N.Y. may become the first city in the United States to allow heroin addicts to freely shoot-up under medical supervision, the Ithaca Journal reports.

Ithaca mayor Savante Myrick unveiled a proposal today titled “The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy” that would offer addicts a facility allowing open heroin injection under the supervision of a nurse. The plan claims to approach addiction from a harm reduction angle, but is being met with mixed reviews from local medical professionals.

“If the mayor wants to do it, it’s up to him to do it, but me personally, I’m not willing to go out on that sort of limb,” Bill Rusen, Director of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, told Syracuse.com.

Some fear that this injection facility will backfire and only worsen the current heroin addiction problem, making the drugs easier to obtain.

“The horrible thing about addicted people is they don’t do what you tell them to do,” said Dr. Brian Johnson, Upstate Medical University addiction psychiatrist.

Those in support of this proposed facility are confident in the services that the facility will provide, such as general health care, counseling, referrals to drug treatment and social services.

Supporters look to European countries such as Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, who have nearly 100 combined injection facilities known as drug consumption rooms.

Syracuse University professor and addiction specialist Dessa Bergen-Cico, who has visited an injection facility in the Netherlands, calls the proposal “bold and politically challenging.”

“Overdose deaths decrease significantly where these facilities are available,” Bergen-Cico told Syracuse.com. “What we have been doing as a society has not worked – it is time for a new approach.”

Mayor Myrick’s proposal has been met with praise from the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group focusing on drug policy reform, which released a statement calling the plan “groundbreaking” and “innovative.”

The Drug Policy Alliance pointed to research showing that supervised injection facilities reduce the spread of infectious diseases, lower the number of overdose deaths, increase public order and save taxpayer money.

Others opposed to the plan worry about its cost, such as Angela Sullivan, executive director of Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County.

“In the addiction treatment field, we are struggling to get enough medical personnel to support what we already have,” Sullivan said.

“The only thing I can say to people who oppose it, it’s not enough to be angry about the problem if all you’re going to do is what you did before,” Myrick told the Ithaca Journal in response to the opposition.

“If you keep seeing the same problems and proposing the same solutions, then you’ll never make progress,” the mayor added.

The U.S. Department of Health has yet to comment on this plan.