The mayor of Ithaca in upstate New York is trying to be the nation's first city to host a supervised injection facility, where dope users can bring their drugs to have them safely administered under the supervision of a nurse.
Many countries have already created supervised injection facilities (Canada, Europe and Australia) which have been proven to be effective in preventing overdoses and the transfer of diseases.
Although this would be a huge step towards fixing the broken criminal justice system that fills American prisons with non-violent drug offenders, there are still many obsticles to be met.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead in order to change laws on the federal level that allow for such facilities to operate, but insists that a change must be made quickly on a local level to put an end to the 'heroin epidemic' that has plagued New York for years.
Myrick said he will ask New York's Health Department to declare the heroin epidemic a state health crisis, which he said would enable his city to proceed without involving the state legislature.
Though Myrick is doing a noble thing by finally bringing attention to a broken criminal justice system, it should be noted that these are not new ideas.
Companies such as Stop the Hypocrisy have been advocating criminal justice reform for nearly twenty years, highlighting the dangers of poor education in respect to drug use; and the costly, unjust perpetuation of non-violent drug offenders filling our jails and prisons.
Here is part of Stop the Hypocrisy's mission statement as it relates to the implementation of safe facilities where people can seek professional help and education:
To insure that adults have the proper educational background to make scientifically intelligent choices about what drugs and foods to consume or not consume. The long term effect should be a reduction of the burden on our health care system. The education will be fact based and not driven by emotion or prejudice. Every drug will be evaluated and rated according to how high it gets a consumer, how long the high lasts, how physically addictive the drug is, how psychologically addictive the drug is, what parts of the body are negatively impacted by use of the drug, whether or not a user of the drug is more likely to have problems with work, school and family relations, whether the drug reduces criminal or sexual inhibitions and whether or not users are more likely to have relationship problems...
The mayor said this facility would be staffed by nurses or physicians who could quickly administer an antidote if and when an overdose occurs. Addicts could get clean syringes and be directed to treatment and recovery programs. By dealing with addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice problem, more people can seek and receive the help they need without the fear of being arrested or ostracized by their community.
Myrick crafted his plan in collaboration with police and prosecutors, overcoming initially strong opposition from District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson.
Canada's first injection facility opened in Vancouver in 2003, where over 800 people visit daily to be safely injected with heroin. After thirteen years of opperation, there have been zero drug related deaths at the facility.