European symposium and study visit on drug consumption rooms in Strasbourg

Strasbourg, France, 3-4 April 2019 – Some 250 participants took part in a European symposium on “Low Risk Drug Consumption Rooms in Europe – Assessment and Prospects” co-organised by Efus, the City  of Strasbourg, the association Ithaque and the MILDECA, and held at the European Parliament on 3-4 April. The meeting brought together elected officials, representatives from international and national institutions, municipal health and security practitioners, doctors and nurses, social workers, police officers and researchers from across Europe and beyond. They discussed the development of local harm reduction policies and the role of supervised Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs) in protecting fundamental rights and fostering public health, security and social cohesion at local level.

Dense discussions on the development of harm reduction policies and DCRs in Europe and beyond

The colloquium was opened by Strasbourg’s Mayor Roland Ries and Efus President Willy Demeyer. Both stressed the importance of further developing balanced strategies to diminish the risks related to public addictive behaviours, which must combine preventive measures to improve public health, repression against criminal acts and networks, as well as innovative actions to foster social cohesion and public tranquillity (see video message). “The consumption of drugs in public spaces has an impact on the quality of life of local residents and public space users. So we need to pacify local life through a policy that combines health prevention, repression when necessary, and the pursuit of public tranquillity,” said Mr Demeyer.

In the following panels and round-table discussions, representatives from more than 20 cities and civil society organisations shared their experience in establishing and running a local DCR. Among the speakers were representatives of the cities of Bern (Switzerland) and Frankfurt (Germany) who have operated DCRs for more than three decades, of Paris (France) and Liege (Belgium) who have recently opened such facilities, and of Athens (Greece) and Ljubljana (Slovenia) who are working towards opening one in the near future.

> DCRs as a key tool for human rights protection and the promotion of public health, security and social cohesion

The rich discussions highlighted different potential positive impacts of DCRs, but also the challenges met by the different municipalities: Dagmar Hedrich (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA) and Denis Huber (of the Pompidou Group, which is the Council of Europe’s drug policy cooperation platform) highlighted that DCRs are a key tool to improve drug users’ access to basic health services and to reduce premature mortality, thereby playing an important role in the protection of the fundamental rights of this particularly vulnerable group. Ester Aranda (Barcelona) and Wolfgang Barth (Frankfurt) explained how DCRs have helped to manage public addictive behaviours and diminish open drug scenes, thereby improving the quality of public space and public tranquillity for all the residents of urban centres. Elisabeth Avril (Paris) and Ricardo Fuertes (Lisbon) focused on potential conflicts with local residents and measures to include local communities in the establishment and management of DCRs.

In his closing remarks, Alexandre Feltz, Strasbourg’s Deputy Mayor in charge of public health, stressed that the provision and smooth operation of DCRs and related harm reduction services require the support of a wide network of actors from the political arena, civil society and the private sector and called on all participants to keep up SOLIDIFY’s dynamic to make European cities safer and healthier places for all.

In parallel with the colloquium, important news regarding the development of harm reduction services in France was shared: Patrick Padovani, Deputy Mayor of Marseille announced the opening of a DCR – the third in France after Paris and Strasbourg – in his city in the autumn of 2019, while the Ithaque association announced the opening of a night shelter linked to Strasbourg’s DCR, which will be ready to welcome overnight the most vulnerable users starting next winter.

> The example of Strasbourg: Political leadership and multi-agency cooperation at the local level as key success factors

The colloquium was followed by a study visit to Argos, Strasbourg’s low risk Drug Consumption Room, which welcomes users in a safe space where they can inject or smoke illicit drugs and which also offers a wide range of services to reduce harm related to drug use and support the health and quality of life of users. Accompanied by Strasbourg’s Deputy Mayor Alexandre Feltz and the directors of Ithaque association in charge of the DCR, Danièle Bader and Gauthier Waeckerle, the SOLIDIFY partners visited the consumption room and exchanged with the nurses and social workers running the service. The visit also included a roundtable discussion with representatives of the local youth centre, the urban crime prevention service and the departmental direction of public security, who cooperate to assure public acceptance of the facility and to manage conflicts and tensions that may arise around the topic.

> The SOLIDIFY project offers a platform for exchange and cooperation at the local level

The Efus-led SOLIDIFY project (January 2018 to December 2019) provides a platform for cities and civil society organisations to exchange on the challenges and advances of implementing a DCR. To date, SOLIDIFY has organised local audits in Liege and Brussels (BE), Mannheim and Augsburg (DE), and Lisbon (PT), as well as study visits to Barcelona (ES), The Hague (NL), Essen (DE) and now Strasbourg (FR). It has overseen the opening of the first Belgian DCR in Liege as well as the opening of an alcohol consumption room in Augsburg. It is now supporting the cities of Lisbon, Mannheim and Brussels for the upcoming opening of their first DCR.
The project is accompanied by experts from the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences and the Amsterdam based NGO Correlation Network and supported by the EMCDDA. It is co-funded by the European Union’s Justice Programme.

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