February 29, 2016
A proposal by the mayor of Ithaca, N.Y., to consider allowing heroin users to shoot up under medical supervision has divided drug-policy experts, with some hailing it as an innovative approach and others rejecting it as a step toward legalization.

Mayor Svante Myrick announced the idea last week as one of several proposals to address a wave of opioid addiction. Myrick also wants to adopt a strategy that sends low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of jail and to help at-risk teens learn work skills.

Myrick’s interest in opening the nation’s first supervised injection site has attracted the most praise — and criticism.

Such facilities, which already operate in Canada, Australia and other countries, would allow users to shoot up under the supervision of a nurse, who would deliver an antidote in case of an overdose. Myrick also foresees offering clean syringes and access to treatment and recovery programs.

The idea faces significant legal and political hurdles. Myrick said the city could petition the state to declare heroin addiction an epidemic, which would allow the injection site to open.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has yet to weigh in on Myrick’s idea.

Kevin Sabet, a drug-policy adviser to three presidents, said injection sites could be a precursor to efforts to fully legalize drugs such as heroin. Other critics said the priority should be more treatment programs.

“The goal here should be getting people off drugs, not doing what we can to make it easy for people to continue to do them,” said David Evans, an adviser to the group Drug Free America.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes taking a law-enforcement approach to drug use, said Myrick’s plan should be a blueprint for other cities. “We are in the middle of a very publicized heroin and opioid epidemic,” said Kassandra Frederique, the group’s New York director.

She said it is time to consider “policies that promote saving people’s lives over stigma and shame.”

Myrick’s plan has the support of the local prosecutor, District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson. But Ithaca Police Chief John Barber said he is wary of the idea.