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Mayor wants supervised heroin use site

Posted at 10:01 AM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 08:14:10-05

Countries across the world are dealing with the growing heroin epidemic in a controversial way, and now the mayor of nearby Ithaca wants to do the same.  The idea is to have sites where heroin users can shoot up under the supervision of nurses.

"If we continue to do what we've done for the last 40 years, people will continue to die in our community," said Mayor Svante Myrick during a news conference Wednesday.

They're called Supervised Injection Facilities (SIFs), and the idea is to reduce drug use in public, and make it safer for users. Across the world they're popping up in Switzerland, German, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia and Canada. According to drugwarfacts.org, in 2009 there were 65 safe injection facilities in 27 eight different countries.

Myrick wants to bring one to Ithaca, and many are on board. He says community members are sick of finding needles and syringes in parks and on the streets.

"They're worried about the needles in the grass. They're worried about the suffering. Facilities like this take this suffering indoors."

Supporters of SIFs say they reduce risk behavior that leads to infectious diseases being transmitted, and they reduce the number of fatal overdoses. Countries that have used them also report that in some areas the number of people using drugs is dropping, and so is the frequency of people doing drugs. Critics, however, say the sites would do little to reduce addiction.

Treatment centers here in Western New York like Renaissance Campus say this will not help the problem.

"We are desperate for a solution," said Jodie Altman, Campus Director of Renaissance Campus in West Seneca. "The solution is not to allow people to do it."

Altman doesn't believe something like this would ever fly in the Buffalo area.

"A large percentage of our kids right now are heroin abusers," Altman said. "There would be no way I would sit them in a room with a clean needle and a nurse and say here go shoot up so I can watch you. There's a whole lot more that goes into this."

Mayor Myrick says it's time to consider new ways to address the drug problem. Still, the idea faces major political and legal obstacles.