France Passes Groundbreaking Bill to Allow Drug Consumption Rooms

Medically supervised injection site

France looks set to join a handful of other states by introducing medically supervised injection centers (MSICs) for drug users, a huge step forward for harm reduction programs in the country.

On April 7, France's National Assembly voted 50-24 in favor of new legislation that will allow Paris and at least two other cities to open MSICs during a six-year testing period, reported The Local. People attending these centers will be safe from prosecution provided the amount of narcotics they possess is deemed to be only for personal use.

Supervised injection sites are professional healthcare facilities which provide drug users with a safe and hygienic space to inject, helping tackle the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C among this impacted population. The world's first center was opened in 1986 in Switzerland, with Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain and Denmark all following suit. Ireland is currently putting together legislation to allow an MSIC in Dublin.

What's more MSICs can offer counseling and broader healthcare services, and significantly reduce the number of overdose deaths; at Insite in Vancouver, for example, which was opened in 2003 and where there have been over a million injections, there has never been a fatal overdose (see video, below).

Right-wing politician Philippe Goujon from the opposition UMP part decried the new French legislation, stating, "We should be helping drug addicts to get clean rather than helping them to self-destruct. Why not call these shooting galleries death rows instead?"

However, the minister of social affairs and health, Marisol Touraine, told the National Assembly that the goal of MSICs "is not to trivialize (or) to facilitate drug use but to take into account the situations that exist, whether we support them or not," according to the International Business Times, adding that the move is not moral, but a pragmatic one.

MSICs have been mooted in France as far back as 2012, with Touraine stating then that a small number of trial facilities could open before the end of that year. Without the legal security offered by this new legislation, though, the government backed away from the proposal.

There are approximately 122,000 injecting drug users in France, among which 7.2 percent have HIV and 41.7 percent have hepatitis C, according to the 2014 Global State of Harm Reduction.