October 11, 2016
The first supervised centre where drug addicts can inject themselves with dangerous substances has opened in France in an attempt to reduce the spread of infections and improve sharps safety.
Located in Paris, close to the Gare du Nord train station, the centre is intended to provide a safe, hygienic place for addicts to inject themselves with clean needles if they are in a situation where it could be dangerous for their health for them to withdraw from the drug at the time.
The country's health leaders are keen to emphasise the centre is not for use by recreational drug users, but is designed to remove the risk of blood contamination and potentially life-threatening sharp injuries for people in the grip of drug addiction.
France's opposition government has said the centre's opening trivialises drug use, but it is intended to provide support and eventual rehabilitation therapy to those with the most serious addictions. Some 1.5 million people in the country are believed to be addicted to cocaine, with heroin users numbering around 500,000.
French health minister Marisol Touraine stated the centre is an "innovative and courageous response to a health emergency situation".
"It's also a strong political response, for a pragmatic and responsible policy that brings high-risk people back towards the health system rather than stigmatising them," she added.
It is believed around 100 people will visit the centre every day to inject themselves with substances they cannot currently live without. The drugs will not be provided, but clean needles and other sterile equipment will be to ensure addicts who have to inject themselves are doing it in the safest way possible in light of their circumstances.
Addicts will also be supervised while injecting themselves in order to further reduce the risk of a sharps injury and to make sure needles are not shared among drug users, and are instead disposed of in a specialist sharps bin.
Recent investigations carried out among drug users in France have shown as many as one in ten have been infected with HIV after sharing a needle with another person, while one in four have been diagnosed with hepatitis C after pricking their skin with a sharps implement that had been used by someone else.
What's more, when under the influence of drugs, people may be more likely to accidentally injure themselves with a needle, so supervision can help to prevent this from happening to both the drug user and others around them.
Although this is the first centre of its kind to open in France, figures from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction show that over 90 government-backed supervised drug centres have opened around the world since the late 1980s in a bid to tackle sharps safety and needle cross-contamination.