France opens controversial first drug injection site in Paris
Intravenous drug users in Paris can now shoot up in an officially designated drug injection room attached to the Lariboisière Hospital. Despite some opposition from local residents, it was inaugurated today by Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Health Minister Marisol Touraine.
France is now one of 10 countries worldwide to operate a government-sanctioned, medically-supervised drug injection site.
The facility will begin serving the public on Friday. It will be open seven days a week, from 1.30pm to 8.30pm.
The site is located in an area that has one of the highest rates of public intravenous drug use. This is why city officials and health professionals chose to open the facility at Lariboisière Hospital.
The drug consumption room will be operated by Gaia, an association that promotes harm reduction and operates needle exchanges. Doctors, nurses, social workers and security guards will also be present on site.
How it works
The facility is composed of three rooms: a waiting room, a consumption room and a room where people can sit before going back out on the street. It can accomodate 50 people at a time and serve up to 400 people in one day.
A check-in process requires drug users to give their date of birth and first name, although they can remain anonymous if so desired. No minors under the age of 18 can enter. Doctors interview first-time visitors about their basic medical history. Once these steps have been completed, visitors receive a number. When their number is called, they can go into the consumption room with 12 injection stations with clean needles and a smoking room for crack-cocaine users.
However, individuals must bring their own drugs with them. Facility staff do not provide them, nor do they help with physical injection. They are there to inform, supervise and intervene in case of an injury or overdose.
For individuals seeking treatment, doctors and social workers will be available for consultation.
Strong local opposition
Local residents drafted a petition against the supervised injection site. A number of politicians have also come out against it, such as the right-wing presidential candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. She said that while these sites are more sanitary, "they do not help drug users quit definitively".
Critics are arguing that such sites lead to an increase in crime and drug trafficking.
Serge Lebigot, president of the association "Parents against drugs", is creating a website called "Observateurs des salles de shoot", or "Shooting gallery observers." He aims to encourage people to post about negative incidents they may witness around the Paris site.
Harm reduction approach
Research on supervised injection sites has shown, however, that they reduce crime and public drug consumption.
"We can see, in case after case where drug consumption rooms have been opened, tremendous improvements," explains Dr Rick Lines of the Harm Reduction Institute in London.
"Not only for the health and well-being of the people who use drugs; we also see remarkable benefits to the broader community in terms of reduction in public injection and public order concerns."
These initiatives "often have the support of local businesses and local police, because they see the benefit of helping a particularly vulnerable population," Lines pointed out.
Other drug consumption rooms will soon be opening throughout the country. The eastern city of Strasbourg is opening a facility next month, while Bordeaux, in the south-west, plans to open one next year.
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