Carers who work with drug addicts in drug consumption rooms, sometimes called salles de shoot in Belgium, will soon no longer be able to be prosecuted. On Tuesday, the Health Committee of the Chamber approved a bill to this effect, first proposed by Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke.
Belgium currently has two “lower-risk drug consumption rooms”, which have existed since 2018 in Liège and since 2022 in Brussels. These spaces are intended to reduce the risks for drug users, who thereby share fewer needles and are less likely to overdose. The centres are also intended to reduce public nuisance from drug users.
Multidisciplinary teams of care providers, including nurses and social workers, are present in these rooms. Under current Belgian legislation, based on a 1921 law, they can be prosecuted for “facilitating” drug use.
This risk of prosecution will soon be a thing of the past thanks to the text voted on by the committee on Tuesday, which will soon be approved by a plenary session. “Care providers who help people in a situation of dependency must be able to do so without worry,” Vandenbroucke said.
The proposal was not without issue, however, as both the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and Vlaams Belang parties voted against the proposal. The Brussels chapter N-VA has actively campaigned against the drug consumption rooms in the capital.
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The Flemish right-wing N-VA party especially objects to a “500-metre tolerance zone” that surrounds the centre, which they say “leaves the field open to dealers” and “will jeopardise the quality of life and security of the neighbourhood.”
Regional and local authorities remain responsible for supervising and organising the consumption rooms, as well as ensuring their security. The bill proposed by the minister proposes a transitional period of six months before the changes in legislation are made.