President of the Pompidou Group,
President of the Ithaque Association,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I begin by thanking my fellow panellists for their co-organisation of this event.
It provides a valuable opportunity to share insights on the impact of low-risk drug consumption rooms –
The challenges that have emerged since the first symposium two years ago, and how they are overcome –
And how we might support one another in putting those lessons to use moving forwards.
The development of our thinking on this issue coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Pompidou Group and the adoption of its revised statute –
As agreed by our Committee of Ministers just two weeks ago.
The new text extends the Pompidou Group’s mandate to legal substances and new forms of addictions, including internet gambling and gaming.
It calls for a multidisciplinary approach to the “drugs challenge which can only be tackled effectively if policy, practice and science are linked”.
And, most importantly, the renewed framework has a strong and explicit human rights focus, putting the needs of the individual at the heart of the Group’s future actions.
This ethos already underpins the operation of many supervised drug consumption rooms in Europe today.
These have come a long way since the first, ground-breaking facility was opened in Berne, Switzerland, 35 years ago.
Although they have since spread to a diverse range of cities across many European countries – and beyond – common threads bind them together.
They seek to ensure a safer environment for drug use, with clean and hygienic conditions.
They aim to improve the health of drug users by improving risk-related behaviour, preventing avoidable deaths, and providing access to health care and treatment.
And they are designed to reduce public disorder by cutting drug use in public and lowering the rate of local crime.
In every sense, they put people first.
As this audience knows, national, regional and local factors all play a part in whether a low risk drug consumption room will be accepted and then whether it succeeds or fails.
This is both about politics and perception.
But reaching and helping highly marginalised groups also depends upon experience and the myriad of complicating factors that exist on the ground, including highly fluid situations.
These range from changing patterns of drug use through to the lockdowns and restrictions that have been needed in order to control the spread and impact of COVID-19.
So, this seminar provides the perfect opportunity for those with knowledge and expertise – for you – to come together and share your stories.
To inform and learn from one another about the difficulties that you have encountered and how you have resolved them, ensuring successful outcomes for those who rely on your commitment.
The concept of human rights rests on the idea that every individual matters equally, that those rights are inalienable, and that there exists an obligation to uphold them.
It seems to me that supervised drug-consumption rooms are designed to put that theory into practice.
Whether here in Strasbourg – or anywhere in Europe – it is right to be motivated by that sentiment.
So, we applaud your intentions and your commitment.
I hope that this symposium will provide specific insights.
More than that, I hope that it will also provide ideas on how you might better support one another in the months and years ahead.
Lives will be saved by it.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you every success in your deliberations.