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Heroin ‘Safe Zones’: Coming to the United States?

This 'Heroin Safe Zone' Permits Users to Shoot Up 2:40

Meet Svante Myrick, the 29-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York, who is stirring up controversy with a proposal for a supervised heroin injection facility in his city.

It's in an effort, he says, to get addicts off the street and into treatment.

"What we're proposing is an entirely new approach to the war on drugs, one that's based in public health instead of criminal justice," Myrick said.

It's a proposal that a few major cities are considering in the wake of a record spike in in deaths from opioid drug overdoses. More than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, most of them due to opioid pain relievers and heroin, in 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, there's a supervised drug injection facility called InSite, where heroin users are allowed to shoot up under medical supervision. Should an overdose occur, a medical professional will step in.

Jody Iverson is just one of many to walk through InSite's doors and try to use its detoxification program, which tries to wean users off drugs.

"You lose yourself," she said. "Drugs isolate you from your family. They isolate you from your friends."

While the idea of permitting heroin users to shoot up, even in the most controlled settings, may be hard to digest, medical professionals in Canada say they see the benefit.

"Before InSite was opened, many body bags passed through the corridor, and it's terrible to see," said Dr. Ronald Joe of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. "It has been tremendous in preventing overdose deaths."

The center gets a little more than a thousand visits per day.

The role injection centers play in saving lives is a key reason Myrick is making a huge push to bring them to Ithaca.

"What safe injection does is it allows people to inject under the supervision of a professional," he said. "Nobody recovers from a heroin addiction if they've died from an overdose."

But some opponents say all this does is encourage the addiction itself — and it's also illegal.

"I don't think we should be pretending that heroin addiction is simply normal or safe or, like, not a big deal," said Jason Rantz, a radio talk show host in Seattle. "The second that you're taking heroin, the second you're injecting heroin, you are hurting yourself."

Opioids 101: The Deadly Epidemic 0:39