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Ithaca, N.Y. — As deaths from overdose increase nationwide and in New York State, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick is releasing a report to address issues of drug use and addiction. Modeled on reports from Europe and Canada, The Ithaca Plan: A Public Health and Safety Approach to Drugs and Drug Policy, is the first report of its kind in the U.S. Bucking the tide of punitive responses to drug use, this report is rooted in public health and harm reduction principles and charts a new way for cities across the U.S. to respond to drug-related problems.  This groundbreaking report aims to prevent drug use and sales, reduce overdose deaths and infectious disease, decrease rates of incarceration, expand access to treatment, and save taxpayers money.

There will be a live press conference in Ithaca at 9:30 and a national teleconference at noon.

WHAT: Press Conference and Teleconference with Mayor Myrick, District Attorney Gwen Wilkerson, experts and others


  • Live in Ithaca at 9:30 AM, Wednesday, Feb. 24 
  • National teleconference later that day at Noon ET (1-800-311-9402, Password: Ithaca)

WHERE: Tompkins County Public Library, BorgWarner Room, 101 E Green St, Ithaca, NY 14850


  • Mayor Svante L. Myrick
  • Chief John Barber, Ithaca Police Department
  • Gwen Wilkinson, Tompkins County District Attorney
  • Lillian Fan, Assistant Director of Prevention Services – Harm Reduction
  • Gepe Zurenda – Treatment Pillar Chair, Municipal Drug Policy Committee
  • Nicole Pagano, Green Street Pharmacy
  • Don MacPherson, Director, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
  • Peter Schafer, Deputy Director, Family Health and Disparities, Center for Health Policy and Programs, The New York Academy of Medicine
  • Kassandra Frederique, NY State Director, Drug Policy Alliance
  • And more

Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of approaches rooted in the criminal justice system and inspired by the success of municipalities in Europe and Canada, Mayor Myrick convened the Municipal Drug Policy Committee a year and a half ago to chart a new course for Ithaca.

“While much of drug policy is driven at the state and federal level, there is a great deal that municipalities can do to create more effective drug polices,” said Mayor Svante Myrick. “Given the way that drugs and drug policies are harming our community, I know we need a totally new approach. I’m pleased that we’ve arrived a plan that includes broad community participation and innovative recommendations to improve the health and safety of Ithacans.”

To generate the recommendations, the Mayor brought together agencies as diverse as the Ithaca Police Department, the local syringe exchange, and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. Over 350 Ithaca community members, officials, and stakeholders eagerly participated in the process motivated by their direct personal experiences with the ravages of addiction, policing, overdose and racial discrimination. The plan marks the Mayor and community’s commitment to reducing racial disparities and criminalization, while creating safer, more productive communities and managing drug use and drug policy issues squarely within a framework of public health and safety.

“I came to this project after 25 years of working in very close proximity to the ‘war on drugs,’” said Gwen Wilkinson, Tompkins County District Attorney, who co-chaired the Municipal Drug Policy Committee that created this report.  “Massive amounts of government resources have been expended and millions of people have been incarcerated, with outrageous racial disparities.  Despite this, drugs are still pouring into our community.  We need to have a new perspective on public safety.”

“I am so proud of our community for leading the way in acknowledging substance abuse as a public health issue, and responding accordingly,” Said Lillian Fan, Assistant Director of Prevention Services at the Southern Tier AIDS Program and Co-Chair of the Municipal Drug Policy Committee. “If we know of ways to prevent overdose and the spread of diseases like HIV, there is no excuse not to try them.”

“Municipalities have a vital role to play in reversing our failed drug polices,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State Director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Ithaca is leading the way by showing how cities can create effective and innovative solutions to drug problems by listening to their citizens and local experts and by drawing on the rich research base about what works. We applaud Mayor Myrick, the Municipal Drug Policy Committee, and the hundreds of Ithacans who participated in this process and hope other cities across New York will follow their lead.”

Some of the more than twenty innovative and cutting-edge recommendations that have emerged from this process include:

  • Consider a Supervised Injection Facility: Supervised injection facilities (SIFs) are controlled health care settings where people can more safely inject drugs under clinical supervision and receive health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment. SIFs have been rigorously studied and found to reduce the spread of infectious disease, overdose deaths, and improperly discarded injection equipment, and to increase public order, access to drug treatment and other services, and to save taxpayer money.
  • Research Heroin Assisted Treatment: Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) is a form of medical care that involves the carefully regulated and controlled prescription of heroin for people who have failed on other drug treatments. Research has shown that HAT can reduce drug use, overdose deaths, infectious disease, and crime, while saving money and promoting social integration.
  • Create of an Office of Drug Policy: One the central problems with drug policy in Ithaca and elsewhere is that agencies often work at cross pursues with little coordination.  By creating a central Office of Drug Policy, Ithaca will be able to coordinate its response to drugs and work to implement the recommendations in The Ithaca Plan.
  • Open a 24-hour Crisis Center: A central finding of the Municipal Drug Policy Committee was the need of a centralized place to help people navigate the treatment and social service systems. Creating a centralized crisis center will facilitate entry into treatment, provide a much need space for people in immediate crisis, and help coordinate across systems of care.
  • Implement of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion: Law enforcement officials frequently act as the first point of contact for drug-related offenses, but criminalization generally results in more harm than good. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-arrest or pre-booking diversion program that has been piloted and evaluated in Seattle, WA. Instead of arresting and booking people for certain petty offenses, including low-level drug possession and sales, law enforcement immediately directs them to housing, treatment, and other services.
  • Create a Youth-serving Apprenticeship Program with Local Businesses: Economic and community development build healthier and safer communities. Strong emphasis on youth employment, like an apprenticeship program, can improve academic achievement and lessen the likelihood of boredom, disengagement, and lack of civic engagement, all of which are factors contributing to drug use or illicit involvement in the drug trade.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.