Ithaca Mayor Says Radical New Plan to Combat Drugs Does Not Enable Users

The mayor of Ithaca, New York, is getting attention for a new plan to fight intravenous drug use, and he detailed his radical strategy today.

Mayor Svante Myrick spoke during a teleconference today on the 65-page plan aimed at combating increasing levels of addiction in Ithaca.

The plan, the outlines of which were unveiled Tuesday, grabbed headlines after Myrick said he wanted to consider at 24-hour supervised facility where drug users could use drugs under clinical supervision and without threat of arrest.

Myrick emphasized today that the plan could be a humane way to fight drug use. It includes multiple initiatives, including providing more treatment and care options for addicts, working with police to bring addicts to social services rather than jail, and increase harm reduction programs such as needle exchanges.

“We are not enabling or condoning, we are protecting people," Myrick said today.

Like many other American cities, Ithaca has been dealing with rising rates of opioid abuse in recent years. The plan reported that young people coming for treatment for opioid addiction has tripled in the last decade. Drug-related deaths have gone up in the city, although the overall number remains low. In 2004, there were four reported overdose deaths and in 2014 there were 14 drug-related deaths in Ithaca, the mayor said.

For the supervised facility, the city's biggest hurdle to opening it would be legal complications, Myrick said, but that he remained hopeful the center would open.

He pointed out other countries, including Canada, have enacted similar programs and have helped bring down crime rates and not encouraged drug use.

"In Vancouver, where they’ve operated for 10 years, nobody has ever walked in ... and said I want to try heroin," Myrick said.

Myrick said he also was working with police on a plan that allows them to divert people arrested for drug charges into social services.