Paris votes YES on drug consumption rooms

Parisian vote in favour of the opening of a safe consumption room, Le Monde.fr | 19.10.10 | 13h25

safer injecting room Sydney Aust

safer injecting room Sydney Aust

Hi,

I just wanted to draw people’s attention to an absolutely incredible achievement by some extremely hard-working activists in France. The excellent French association ASUD (promoters of harm reduction etc for people who use drugs) have worked tirelessly for a couple of years or more now to raise the issue of drug consumption rooms for Paris. ASUD (and Pierre Chappard who deserves a special mention) have managed to reignite the debate around drug law reforms in what has been an extremely hostile environment for French people who use drugs. Over the last few years, many of us have felt extremely worried for the state of progress on the drugs issue in the French capital (and elsewhere in France) particularly since the hard-line Sarkozy government came into power.

The following article (translated by Eliot Albert – thanks Eliot!) was from Le Mond last week, and although it doesn’t mean drug consumption rooms will be opened anytime soon, it is however, a very symbolic move of a change of mood and a recognition of, not just the extent of the health problem drug users are facing in Paris today, but an admission that ideas once a deemed totally unacceptable option, now becoming an acceptable – and important issue for many in health AND politics. The article reads as follows:

On Tuesday 19th October, the Paris city council voted in favour of the opening of a drug consumption room. The proposal read: “This initiative will be an experiment supported by the state and designed in strict collaboration with the regional health authority, the Police, neighbours and other interested parties”.

These rooms, which have been at the centre of a lively debate in France since the summer, aim to provide drug users with the most hygienic conditions in which to use them, and also to reach the most marginalized drug users, who up until now have been without the slightest contact with medical or social care, with the intention of encouraging them to take care of themselves. They will be run according to the principles of harm reduction, which already provide needle exchange and substitution programmes.

Paris is the first town to hold a vote on this ultra-sensitive subject. The decision was made at the end of September following the participation of elected Parisian officials from across the political spectrum at a seminar led by the charity ‘The elected, public health and space’, which recommended in favour of the project. A local report notes that the arrangements currently in place for drug users “do not, unfortunately, resolve all of the problems” and goes on to describe the emergence in certain areas of northern Paris of open drug scenes frequented by the most marginalized drug users, and a high rate of Hepatitis C.

These issues are seen as problematic as much for the drug users as for those who live in the area. The Communist Party has come out in favour of the project, pointing to evidence from overseas that demonstrates improvements to the health of drug users and “that other countries haven’t backtracked”. “Some choose to close their eyes, we choose to act” declared Communist council member, Alain L’hostis.

A public health problem
The Greens, who also voted in favour of the measure, insist that not just one, but two or three safe consumption rooms are needed in order to manage the influx of people that just one room would bring. Noting that the Greens have been calling for such a measure since 2004, Véronique Dubarry, seemed delighted by the “change in mentality”.
The ‘Nouveau Centre’ (a new grouping of centrist, mainstream politicians) abstained, but Catherine Bruno has expressed her fundamental interest in these facilities thus: “it cannot be left out of public health” she pleaded, describing “a societal problem that makes all electoralism seem irrelevant”.
As predicted, only the UMP, is openly opposed to the executive’s proposal. As Philippe Goujon, UMP Mayor of the 15th district, echoing the position of the prime minister, who in August, judged such a proposal to be both useless and undesirable, denounced the risks “of a rise in the consumption, and a banalisation, of drugs”. So much for the weakening of the government’s war on drugs.
If the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe (Socialist), who had called for “innovation and [the] adoption of new methods”, congratulated himself on several occasions with the quality and calm tone of the debates, his report did not go unchallenged by the opposition. The intervention of Daniel Vailant (Socialist), from the town hall of the 18th district, raised the tone of the debate a notch when he aimed the following accusation at Phillipe Goujon: “the irresponsibility, hence the laxity, is on the side of those who maintain the status quo”.
Jean-Marie Le Guen, responsible for the project, hammered the point home by saying: “What differentiates us from you, is that we think that the problems of drug abuse are a matter for public health not morals”; his assessment was greeted with derision by the opposition.On such a subject, a calm debate would have come as a great surprise!

NOTE: please stay tuned as BP has some questions we are asking our French

Offering sterile equipment and environment in a drug consumption room in Sydney

Offering sterile equipment and environment in a drug consumption room in Sydney

friends at ASUD about just how close consumption rooms really are to being a reality – the Sarkozy government (who is not behind the idea) still have to vote on it, and there are more questions such as who will pay for it etc, that would be interesting to hear about, as would the next stage in the struggle to get consumption rooms in the cities of Paris.

PS – Pierre also heads up a widely used forum on ASUD’s website, which would be well worth checking out, especcially if you’d like to find out more on this issue. There is a translate button on the website, but speaking French is obviously the advantage! Oh, one more thing! On ASUD’s wesbite, do have a read of a Spanish users experience of using a consumption room in Madrid – it translates well (press tab at top of website), and highlights the  issues around just how important – and lifesaving –  these rooms are.

Erin O’Mara

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