The mayor of Ithaca, NY is requesting the nation’s first supervised injection facility, where people can shoot heroin and other illegal drugs under the care of a nurse without getting into trouble with the law.
The proposal from Mayor Svante Myrick, 28, is similar to currently operating injection facilities working to reduce overdose deaths in Canada, Europe, and Australia. An injection facility does not yet exist in the United States, and doing so would face significant legal and political challenges. Myrick says that needs to change.
“My father was a drug addict. He split from the family when I was 5, 6-years-old,” Myrick said to the Associated Press. “I watched for 20 years this system that just doesn’t work. We can’t wait anymore for the federal government. We have people shooting up in alleys. In bathroom stalls. And too many of them are dying.”
Overdose deaths in New York state from heroin and other opioid drugs have dramatically increased from 186 in 2003 to 914 in 2012. Ithaca had three fatal overdoses and 13 non-fatal overdoses in 2014 alone, which motivated city officials to look at alternatives to sending addicts to prison. Myrick is asking New York’s Health Department to declare the heroin epidemic a state health crisis, which would enable Ithaca to proceed without involving the state legislature. The response is still pending.
The proposal comes after several controversial injection facilities have reported success with their efforts in other countries. One such example is Canada’s first injection facility, Insite, which opened in Vancouver in 2003. Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates Insite, says about every day 800 users visit and between 10 and 20 overdoses occur each week, but no one has ever died there.
“These overdoses are completely reversible,” Daly said. “People die because they inject alone.”
According to research by Brown University epidemiologist Brandon D.L. Marshall, overdose deaths have actually dropped 35 percent in the surrounding neighborhood after Insite opened.
While Insite has reported success, it did receive significant initial opposition from officials in Ottawa. The Canadian Supreme Court decided in 2011 that the facility has saved lives “with no discernable negative impact” and ordered federal officials to stop fighting it.
US state and federal laws would put users and operators of a facility like Insite at risk of arrest.
“We’re talking about a government-sponsored shooting gallery,” said Mike Gimbel, an addiction expert and drug czar in Baltimore County after beating heroin. “It’s misguided. The addict is going to say: this is cool, a place I don’t have to worry about the cops. Why should an addict stop if there are no consequences for their behavior?”
Injection sites are among the discussion in response to the growing opioid drug crisis in America. Opioids were involved in more than 61 percent of deaths from overdoses nationwide in 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses have more than tripled since 2010 and are double the rates of deaths from cocaine.
What do you think? Should injection sites for heroin and other drugs be allowed in America? Why or why not?