By Svante Myrick was on the phone with a reporter from a big New York newspaper when he realized people’s assumptions about the heroin epidemic don’t match the reality. The journalist asked the 29-year-old mayor of Ithaca for a “gritty” picture that would represent the damage heroin has wrought in his community. Ithaca, a town of 30,000 residents that’s home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, isn’t a very gritty place. But heroin has hammered it nonetheless.

“Mothers would come in carrying needles that their daughters had found playing outside,” said Myrick, who took office in 2012, at the age of 24. “…Businesses would come in and say, ‘Someone overdosed in our bathroom.’ ”

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