Ithaca's Inspiring Mayor Knows Why We Need Supervised Injection Facilities

Feb 24 2016

Ithaca’s Inspiring Mayor Knows Why We Need Supervised Injection Facilities

The small city of Ithaca, New York, has one of the nation’s most interesting mayors.

Svante Myrick is the first African-American mayor of Ithaca, and—aged just 28—he’s also one of the youngest mayors in US history. Now Mayor Myrick wants Ithaca to become the first US city with a supervised injection facility.

In a teleconference organized by the Drug Policy Alliance on Wednesday, Myrick spoke passionately about his experience of growing up with a father who struggled with addiction. “I saw the way the system treated both him and our family,” he told reporters. “It only made the situation worse.”

“For nearly a decade I’ve been in charge of a system and I’ve watched that system continue to make the same mistakes,” he continued. “[We’re pursuing] the same policies, expecting a different outcome.”

So now Myrick, with the aid of drug policy reform organizations, has drafted a groundbreaking plan to address his city’s opioid issues. The Ithaca Plan includes a supervised injection facility (SIF)—a place where people who inject drugs can shoot up under the care of fully equipped medical professionals—to reduce disease and death.

Currently, the only legal SIF in North America is Insite, in Vancouver, which has been shown by dozens of studies to bring widespread benefits to people who inject drugs and the wider community.

Now Myrick hopes the US federal government will give the Ithaca the breathing room to employ this harm reduction strategy, which has also been shown to work in several European countries.

Despite the conclusive science, the idea remains a radical one in the US political context. But as Myrick points out, prohibition doesn’t deter people who are addicted to heroin. “The power of this drug is such that people shoot up in dumpsters.”

Despite the substantial hurdles in his path, Myrick hopes this first step will help shift attitudes about prohibition and recovery. It’s to be hoped that his leadership will inspire many more US cities.