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France

France's first drug consumption room to open in Paris hospital despite protests

media The Lariboisière hospital in Paris Public domain

The Paris city council announced Monday that France's first drug consumption room will open in the Lariboisière hospital, following a campaign by residents against it opening in another neighbourhood.

Also called “fix rooms” or “shooting galleries”, drug consumption facilities provide users with clean needles and come staffed with counsellors and health-care workers. Once inside the building, drug users can’t be prosecuted.

the scheme's supporters say such places help reduce drug-related crime and disease for the more than 80,000 intravenous drug users in France. The French National Assembly voted to authorised the opening of fix rooms on an esperimental basis last month.

But opponents say it will increase insecurity and drug use in the area.

The move “won’t change anything in terms of insecurity since they have moved the problem to another street”, Serge Lebigot, the president of the organisation Parents contre la drogue, told RFI.

“In reality, around fix rooms there's what’s called a lawless zone, that is to say a perimeter of about 300 meters, where the police can’t go to avoid scaring addicts,” Lebigot explains. “We know that the dealers will come there. I pity the people who will have to go the emergency room in that hospital.”

France is not the first country to experiment with fix rooms. Germany, The Netherlands, Australia and the Canadian city of Vancouver have all opened such places in recent years.

Denmark opened its first fix room in 2012 in Copenhagen, where drug addiction is a big problem in some areas. Since then, the country has opened two more in the capital.

“The experiment was very successful,” Rasmus Koberg Christiansen, the manager of two of Copenhagen's drug consumption rooms, told RFI .

“When we started, we were very suspicious about how this would work, since it was the first of its kind in Denmark,” he recalls. “We had a situation where drug addicts where shooting drugs in the street for 35 years. After a couple of months we had 200-300 injections every day but we didn’t see an increase of drug consumption because of these rooms.”

Studies show successes in other countries, such as Australia and Germany, where they have helped reduce the mortality rate of drug users.

But some, in France, including Lebigot, are concerned that opening a safe consumption room will increase insecurity in the area.

Christiansen says the crime rate has actually gone down in areas where the rooms where opened.

“It’s a little special for us because our drug consumption rooms are in the area where there has been a lot of drug use,” he notes. “The drug-related crimes have decreased between 80 and 90 per cent. A lot of the problems in the surrounding are gone but the drug addicts are still there.”

Unlike in Paris, Christiansen says Copenhagen inhabitants where in favour of opening the fix rooms.

In France opponents are worried that by opening a fix room, the government might be encouraging drug consumption.

“These are lawless areas… opening a fix room is taking a step towards legalisation of drugs. In this area, you have the right to transport and consume drugs,” explains Lebigot. “There’s also the problem of the kind of message this sends to young people. When children see a fix room, they’ll tell you 'Why don’t we have the right to take drugs, since it is allowed here?' ”

Christiansen replies that such places are just one part of the answer to the fight against drugs.

“It’s very important that drug consumption rooms don’t stand alone,” he warns. “They are a little part of the effort against this problem. Treatments are important, drug consumption rooms are important, housing is important, money is important. It’s a little part of the picture."

Those in favour of the scheme say that letting drug addicts inject themselves openly and safely allows the authorities to help them more easily and allows them to have the information and the help they need directly.

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