A small city mayor explains why safe drug injection sites are so effective

In my experience, people either immediately recognize the name of Harris Wittels, or they don’t at all. And that’s precisely what makes the comedian and former Parks & Rec writer’s death from addiction in 2015 that much more tragic.

4 years later, Wittels’ sister, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, has launched a new podcast series called “The Last Day” that explores the ongoing opioid epidemic in-depth and with astounding empathy. While many people have been affected by this problem, the solutions aren’t so readily apparent. Or, if they are, there are still stigmas around them that make it difficult to enact them on a larger enough scale.

In the 7th episode of the podcast, Wittels Wachs speaks with Svante Myrick, the 32-year-old politician who just won his third term as mayor of Ithaca, New York. Myrick speaks passionately and candidly about his own family’s history with addiction, and also about the potential benefits of safe injection sites—supervised spaces where people can go and freely use the drugs to which they are addicted. The idea is understandably controversial, particularly if you subscribe to the negative stereotypical assumptions about drug users. But, as Myrick explains, these safe injection sites have been shown to reduce deaths as well as crime.

If this sounds contradictory to you, well, then, I would suggest you listen to the podcast episode:

7: 20,000 Fewer Funerals

I’ll be honest: I’m not being completely objective here. My friend Matt overdosed and died in 2016. My wife also runs a professional theatre company in Ithaca, where Svante is mayor—and in 2018, I wrote a play about opioid recovery that was devised in collaboration with people in the Ithaca area who were transitioning out of prison and rehabilitation programs. Read the rest

Smoking heroin doesn't make it any safer

According to American Medical Association, the use of heroin as an injected drug, has decreased over the past few years. For those concerned about the harm that sharing needles can do to spread communicable diseases and increase the harm done to at-risk individuals, that's great news. Unfortunately, the use of shooting horse has given way to something that can be just as dangerous to drug users in an entirely different way.

In the most recent issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (paywall, of course,) researchers noted that, increasingly, heroin users are turning to heating the drug so that the resulting vapor can be inhaled. That's called chasing the dragon, ya'll and, just like actual dragons, the practice is very bad news. By inhaling heroin, you might be dodging infected injection sites, collapsed veins or disease, but you're opening the door to serious brain damage.

From Gizmodo:

Looking at more than 30 studies and case reports, which included the cases of two other patients at their hospital, the team settled on some basic observations.

For one, while there’s sparse information on how often addicts are inhaling heroin, the little data that does exist suggests it’s the fastest growing method of use, the team found. In countries such as Sri Lanka, Norway, and India, over two-thirds of heroin users admit inhaling it regularly. In the US, injection is still the most common method, but inhalation is increasing, especially in cities and areas east of the Mississippi. It’s also becoming more popular among teens.

Read the rest