Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Ithaca Drug Policy Plan

By Nethan ReddyPublished March 23, 2016

Recently, a statement by Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick made national headlines. Mayor Myrick announced that that the city is ready to be the first to have the country's first supervised heroin injection site. Amidst the press blitz, the fact that the opening of the this injection site is only one component of an entire comprehensive policy seems to be overlooked. Why is this detail something we should think about?

    Recently, a statement by Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick that Ithaca was ready to be the first city to have the country's first supervised heroin injection site made national headlines. Publicity consisted of coverage by the National Public Radio, an op-ed piece by the Tompkins County District Attorney on the matter in the Huffington Post, and an upcoming profile of the people involved in the plan in the New York Times. Amidst the press blitz, the fact that the opening of the this injection site is only one component of an entire comprehensive policy is often ignored. This plan was formulated by local government and harm reduction activists to confront the ineffectiveness of the overdue "war on drugs" as it pertains to Ithaca. It is important to shed more light on the initiative as a whole and how it can serve to confront the heroin epidemic sweeping Ithaca and the nation at large.

The plan presents a number of new policies and goals for the city:

  1. Myrick will open an Office of Drug Policy that will coordinate all local government and city agency efforts in reducing public costs, overdoses, arrests, and inequalities associated with illegal substance abuse. The step acknowledges the fact that the organizations independently working towards these goals could increase collaboration with each other and in effect draft coordinated policies that target substance abuse in the city in a more centralized approach.
  2. The Office will prioritize the analysis of racial disparities within systems in which substance abuse plays a significant role (criminal justice, housing, welfare, etc.) to develop increasingly specialized policies that work to reduce racial disparities along these lines.
  3. Accessible drug education and harm reduction services that emphasize helping oneself and/or others who have a substance abuse problem. This measure recognizes the large amount of evidence that supports education and harm reduction as both very useful in declining substance abuse rates and keeping those who have a substance abuse problem as safe as possible while they recover.
  4. The opening of a centralized treatment resource in Ithaca that emphasizes recovery-oriented health services and other services not necessarily directly related to substance abuse problems but could contribute to a substance abuse problem, and is able to meet the needs of all individuals regardless of their stage in recovery. This policy advocates for the integration of harm reduction into recovery, and takes a holistic healthcare approach by considering other factors such as mental illness, unstable housing, and unemployment among others.
  5. Sustained efforts to boost economic growth, especially pertaining to vulnerable and low-income communities. This aligns with research which shows that economic development also promotes advancements in public health and safety.
  6. Reorient the Ithaca Police Department to focus on providing access to services and other resources as opposed to criminalization. This is based in the notion that substance abuse is primarily a health problem and should be treated as such, as well as the tried and unsuccessful attempts to "arrest" our way out of the substance abuse epidemic across the nation.

Overall, expanding services and providing more resources to those struggling with substance abuse problems will in the long-run decrease the burden of the heroin epidemic in Ithaca much more than policies that alienate, stigmatize, and criminalize those suffering from addiction.
Read the full plan here.