French Senate Gives Green Light to Drug Consumption Rooms

September 18, 2015

After a heated debate, Senators have decided to approve an experimental project to provide a safer environment for drug users, in order to prevent death and disease.

On Thursday, the French Senate discussed the new health law, which was passed by the National Assembly in April. The new law introduces several controversial reforms, such as banning the smoking of tobacco in the presence of minors below the age of 12, accepting gay men as blood donors, and the removal of the compulsory reflection period before an abortion. The most heated point of discussion involved Article 9 - a paragraph which allows for the opening of drug consumption rooms. Under the draft law, drug users cannot be prosecuted for drug use within the facilities, so long as the amount of the drug is limited to "purely personal use". The rooms will provide a hygienic environment where drug users can inject using sterile equipment. Clients will also be able to access a range of other services in these rooms, operated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals.

Conservative Senators called such rooms "the antechambers of death" and accused the socialist government of promoting drug use. They submitted an amendment to delete Article 9. The majority of Senators, however, rejected this amendment. Supporters of the reform pointed out that drug consumption rooms are in fact essential to prevent death and disease among drug users. "What is important is that addicts will meet addiction doctors in these rooms," said Senator Alain Milon (Union for Popular Movement). Senator Yves Daudigny (Socialist Party) added that these rooms will also reduce nuisance on the streets, thus making neighborhoods safer. By rejecting the Conservative proposal, the Senate gave the green light to a six-year experimental project which will allow the opening of the first drug consumption rooms. Similar facilities now operate in a number of European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and Germany. 

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There are 80,000 injecting drug users in France, and 100 overdose deaths per year. Experience in other cities has showed that the rooms are effective in preventing both infections and overdose deaths. French research published last year (Aerli) showed that drug consumption rooms reduce practices leading to hepatitis C transmissions by 43 percent, and reduce other injection-related health complications by 41 percent.  

Peter Sarosi