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France opens first safe injection space in Paris for drug addicts

France has joined several other European countries in allowing drug users to shoot intravenous drugs in sanitary conditions. Supporters have argued it reduces disease, while detractors say it 'trivializes' addiction.

France announced on Tuesday that it will open its first supervised safe space for drug users in northern Paris. The decision comes after years of acrimonious opposition from conservative politicians.

The room, which opens on Friday, will give drug addicts clean needles as well as access to counseling and medical services as part of the Lariboisiere Hospital, near the city's busy Gare du Nord train station, where drug dealing and use is common.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine praised the safe-injection room as an "innovative and courageous response to a health emergency situation."

Touraine also emphasized the need to specifically reach out to marginalized populations. It will be "a very important moment in the fight against the scourge of addiction."

Paris Eröffnung Drogenkonsumraum (picture-alliance/AP/P. Kovarik )

The center expects to welcome between 100 to 200 addicts a day

First pioneered by Switzerland in 1986, France now joins countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia and Canada in granting addicts access to medically supervised injection spaces. There are plans to open similar rooms in Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, told the press that she felt "very moved

and very proud because what's being done here is necessary, necessary for the people who are in complete disarray, because they know they have a door they can enter."

Opposition sees little benefit

For years, conservative lawmakers fought the creation of the safe injection site because they argued it trivialized drug use and could raise security concerns.

"The only acceptable policy remains helping people into ending drug usage," said conservative city council members in a joint statement.

There have also been sporadic protests in some Parisian neighborhoods against having such a facility in their backyard.

Paris Eröffnung Drogenkonsumraum Protest (picture-alliance/AP/P. Kovarik )

"No to an injection room in a residential area" reads one banner

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, safe-injection sites have been linked to reductions in disease-spreading behavior such as needle sharing, and an increase in addicts seeking counseling and rehabilitation services. In some cities, it has also been connected to a decrease in drug deaths and drug-related violence.

While overarching statistics as to the benefits of safe-injection sites can be difficult to compile, there is no evidence to suggest, as some French lawmakers have, that the existence of the safe rooms lead to an increase in drug use or violence.

es/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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