Southern Tier AIDS Program Wants To Operate Ithaca’s Proposed Safe Injection Site

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – In 2016, the mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick,  proposed the city establish a supervised injection facility as one way to reduce the harm of the opioid crisis.

Last week, the city’s Common Council heard from the Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP). They said they want to operate the center. They run three syringe exchanges, in Ithaca, Norwich and Johnson City. STAP leaders say they have the expertise and staff to operate safe injection in Ithaca.

John Barry, the Executive Director of STAP, said his organization can handle the responsibilities of managing a safe supervised injection facility. He listed several reasons: they own their own building, they have staff who are already trained to work with injection drug users and at reversing overdoses, and they have medical staff.

Finally, he said, “we feel passionate about this issue and we are tired of reading obituaries for twenty-somethings.”

STAP works in eight New York counties with a staff of over 90 people. They serve over 500 people through their syringe exchanges.

One benefit they have seen from the syringe exchanges, Barry said, is they know that it helps get people into treatment.

“There’s research that proves that folks that are referred through harm reduction programs have greater likelihood of completing treatment, sticking with it through to the end, possibly because they are doing it on their own terms.”

He also explained when people know how to properly make an injection, it reduces certain heart infections, and, therefore, reduces emergency room visits and hospital stays. He shared research from the Centers for Disease Control about rural counties at risk of a rise in HIV infection due to the opioid drug injection.

Barry also said the concerns people have about safe injection sites are like those about syringe exchanges and need to be addressed. One prior example he gave was the concern that Ithaca would become an “open-air drug market” if there was a syringe exchange and that did not happen. 

A Council member asked when it will be possible for them to have a more thorough discussion, ask questions of others who might be impacted, and get input from law enforcement.

Mayor Myrick said the City has “very little regulatory decision-making control over where this goes or if it gets approved. The approval needs to come from the state.” 

Myrick said, the Council will eventually need to vote on the plan. For now, there needs to be discussion about how it would be integrated into existing services like law enforcement. The discussion will now begin within the city’s Public Safety Information Commission.