France’s first safe drug injection site to open in Paris
France’s first supervised injection site (SIS) for drug users will open in northern Paris on Monday after years of advocacy on the part of health experts and despite objections from local residents.
Despite seven years of debate and protestsfrom neighbourhood residents, the controversial “shooting gallery” – as it’s known in France – was inaugurated on October 11 by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and French Health Minister Marisol Touraine. The SIS will open at the Lariboisière Hospital in Paris’s 10tharrondissement (district).
No ‘miracle tool’
“This isn’t some kind of miracle tool, it’s a practical one,” Nathalie Latour, general director of the French addiction counselling groupFédération Addiction, told FRANCE 24. The group, which works regularly with drug addicts, said the SIS should help addicts “regulate the frequency of their consumption”.
“It’s a big step,” said Latour, who added that the facility could significantly reduce the risks linked to drug consumption.
The SIS will have an entrance separate from Lariboisière Hospital’s main doors. The space will only be accessible to adult drug users, who will be given sterile materials to inject the products that they bring themselves. A convention signed by the justice and interior ministries ensures that using the facilities will not have legal repercussions. The site can accommodate about 50 people at a time plus at least six staff members including a doctor, a nurse and a security guard.
Open all afternoon, the SIS will offer a front desk, a room for consumption, a workshop on safe injection and several counselling offices. There is also a rest area so that “no one has to leave while still under the influence”, Elisabeth Avril, director of the SIS, explained to FRANCE 24. The aim is to put drug users in contact with health and social workers who can help them.
Local complaints versus international examples
However, some people who live near the Lariboisière Hospital are concerned about the consequences for their neighbourhood. Several banners protesting against the “shooting gallery” can still be seen on the facade of the building across the street.
Serge Lebigot, president of the organisationParents contre la drogue (Parents Against Drugs), is one worried neighbour. He says he’ll be watching the SIS carefully, and encourages other residents to do the same. He even put up a website where anyone can “report incidents” that they see at the hospital.
Since 2010, a group of experts at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research(Institut national de la santé et de la recherché médicale) has emphasised the role such sites can play in reducing the risk of overdoses and the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C. According to 2011 statistics from the ministry of health, more than 10 percent of drug users suffer from AIDS and more than 40 percent from Hepatitis C, a situation the ministry called “very worrying”.
Similar spaces, also known as drug consumption rooms and fix rooms, have existed in other countries for years. Switzerland has provided injection sites for the past 30 years and has seen a reduction in both the spread of infectious diseases and the frequency of drug use. Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands all offer safe injection spaces as well.