The Deputy Mayor of Paris for Health has proposed the opening of four new safer drug consumption rooms in the city, as well as a bus in which people can smoke crack cocaine.
Drug consumption rooms (DCRs) provide a safe and sterile environment for people to use drugs in the presence of health professionals. They also provide an opportunity for marginalised groups – particularly homeless people – to access healthcare and information about treatment options that they may otherwise be unaware of. Two DCRs already exist in France; one in Paris’ Lariboisière hospital which is visited by around 165 people every day, and another in the city of Strasbourg.
Deputy Mayor Anne Souyris has proposed opening four more in Paris, as well as introducing a bus service that would function as a mobile DCR. Currently, DCRs in France are targeted at people who inject drugs such as heroin, but the proposed bus would primarily be for people who smoke crack cocaine. Officials estimate that there are as many as 500 people who publicly smoke crack in Paris, The Connexion reports.
Souyris said that crack use is becoming increasingly prevalent in Paris, and that people who use the drug should be able to legally do so in existing DCRs, as well as the proposed ones. Strangely, visitors are not permitted to smoke crack cocaine in existing facilities unless they have injected drugs there previously; meaning people who smoke crack but do not inject other drugs cannot use the facilities.
“We must change the law!” Souyris insisted, because “the consumption of crack is alarming in the north-east of Paris”.
Souyris says that she proposed the bus to make the space easily accessible to people in different areas who are unable or unwilling to travel to another location. "These crack smokers are so ill that they are not able to get help, we must go to them, hence the idea of this bus”, she claimed.
Benjamin Jeanroy – co-founder and head of drug policy at French “action tank” reform organisation ECHO – told TalkingDrugs that current policies are failing to effectively address public crack use in Paris:
“There are some subway stations in the city where many people are using crack. This is unsafe for the people using crack, and it can also disturb the peace. We need to get people out of the stations, but that alone won’t solve the issue – it will just displace people. The only solution is to have more safe spaces for people to use crack. The proposed bus is a brilliant idea if done properly.”
"However", Jeanroy warned, "the current and future political atmosphere do not augur well for these new proposals".
The four DCRs and the bus proposed by Souyris require authorisation from the national health ministry and the city council before being allowed to open. As the proposal has come from a senior City Hall figure, it seems likely to gain approval at the city level, but gaining national approval may be more complicated. The authorisation for Paris' first DCR was given by former President François Hollande's administration, who hails from the same party as Paris' Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Conversely, current President Emmanuel Macron has a notoriously tense relationship with Mayor Hidalgo, which may be further worsened by upcoming mayoral elections in 2020.
DCRs currently operate in seven other European countries, Canada, and Australia; no one has ever died from an overdose in one. Alongside assisting people who use drugs, DCRs provide a range of benefits to wider society, including reduced street crime, reduced spread of disease, and improved access to emergency services.