On the eve of the United Nations General Assembly's special session on drugs, the French Federation for the Study of Addiction (FFA) released a report on Monday urging France to embrace a new strategy to reduce the risks associated with substance abuse, even if it means changing the existing legal framework and reforming the medical sector.
The report is the result of a public hearing held earlier this month in which nearly 30 addiction experts suggested new methods to treat addiction and reduce health risks associated with drug use. After evaluating a number of measures introduced in France over the past 15 years, the FFA experts made a series of recommendations on how to best tackle drug use going forward, focusing on different aspects of harm reduction, from education to policy.
The recommendations include decriminalizing drug use — a longtime FFA suggestion — as well as the introduction of a postal needle exchange system for users living in remote areas and targeted support for underserved communities, including young people, women, prisoners, and migrants. The report is intended to complement the efforts of the Mildeca (Interministerial Mission for Combating Drugs and Addictive Behaviors), a government body tasked with leading France's anti-drug efforts.
FFA's report also notably advocates the wider use of naloxone, a drug known by its brand name Narcan that can instantly stop an opioid overdose when administered as an injection or as a nasal spray.
Naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose on opioids like morphine, codeine, or heroin. Described as an overdose "antidote," it is already readily available in certain states in the US and elsewhere in the world.
In France, only doctors can administer naloxone — a regulation that many advocates and health professionals feel is too severe.
"In the case of an overdose, a hospital's ER services can provide you with a life-saving injection," Dr. Alain Morel, a psychiatrist who serves as vice-president of the FFA, told AFP. "But by the time you get to the hospital...."
The FFA also endorses a measure to allow addicts to take drugs under medical supervision in treatment centers. Today, most drug treatment facilities ban any illegal drug consumption on their premises.
Doctors unofficially supervise injections in some centers, explained Morel, who thinks that "medical oversight" of drug use is a key element of harm reduction.
This particular recommendation is targeted at centers run by the Care Center for Support and Prevention of Addiction (CSAPA) and the Centers for Supporting Risk Reduction for Drug Users (CAARUD), public institutions specializing in the treatment and prevention of addiction that already provide addicts with clean syringes and access to testing for infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.
In March, the government approved a six-year trial of supervised drug use sites.
The Addiction Federation, one of the groups that makes up the FFA, said in a statement that it hopes the report will "serve as a link" between these centers and the medical profession. It noted that it is also looking to provide solutions to those addicted to electronic cigarette devices and to respond to "new trends in alcohol consumption."
"The next step is for the report to be validated or not by the French National Authority for Health," said Jean-Pierre Couteron, president of the Addiction Federation.
The National Authority for Health is now studying the report before determining Thursday whether to forward the recommendations to the French Health Ministry.
Though drug treatment advocates and addiction experts cheered the FFA's recommendations, it's unclear what the government's assessment of the various measures will be. When Jean-Marie Le Guen, France's secretary of state for relations with the parliament, voiced support for the moderate decriminalization of marijuana use among French adults earlier this month, government spokesperson Stéphane Le Foll insisted that the French government was "neither looking into, nor thinking of" changing the country's drug laws.
Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c