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Drugs: French people better informed and more open

How has our perception of drugs changed in five years? Through its survey on representations, opinions and perceptions on psychotropic drugs (Eropp), the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT) makes it possible to observe the structuring of opinions and their evolution in relation to licit and illicit drugs. Fifth focus since 1999, this survey (conducted on a sample of 2,001 individuals aged 18 to 75 years) reveals both an increase in the level of information of French on drugs in general but also a plebiscite for therapeutic cannabis.

First observation: if tobacco and alcohol are not considered by a majority of people interviewed as drugs, the French are much more aware of the health damage related to these drinks. Two-thirds believe that alcohol abuse is more of a problem for society than illicit drug use. More than half think the same about smoking. Over the last twenty years, the dangerousness of these two licit substances has increased in the individuals surveyed. One in two people believe that experimentation or occasional use of tobacco is already harmful to health, compared with 22% in 1999, the year of the first survey.

"Human good sense"

The vision of cannabis, too, has evolved greatly. The most frequently used illicit product in France, cannabis remains the first substance spontaneously cited as a "drug" by respondents. But they are now less likely to consider that a first fumette is a danger (48% against 54% in 1999). Above all, for the first time, adherence to the medical use of cannabis is massive: 91% of respondents support the principle of prescribing cannabis by doctors in the context of certain serious or chronic diseases. William Lowenstein, president of SOS addiction and addictologist, said "Pleasantly struck by the extraordinary majority of French people who support therapeutic cannabis. This proves that unlike in previous years, the French surveyed hear more the occurrence of "therapeutic" than "cannabis" in therapeutic cannabis. It remains only for our policies and the ANSM [Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé, ndlr] next June to go in the direction of this vast majority.

In December, the temporary specialized scientific committee (CSST) convened by the ANSM had indeed estimated "That it was appropriate to authorize the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes for patients in certain clinical situations and in the case of insufficient relief or poor tolerance of therapeutics, whether or not medically available,". The conclusions of the ANSM are expected for the month of June. About 40% of the individuals consulted also support the idea that those who want it should be allowed to grow small amounts of cannabis for personal use. "When we know that supervised or regulated self-cultivation is one of the means to stop sourcing from mafia without borders, we can say that this perception is good news. It's as if the good human sense had finally won, after half a century of counterproductive prohibition" adds the president of SOS Addiction.

"Net change"

At the time of the survey, conducted in the fall, Canada had just legalized the production and sale of cannabis. France for its part completed the existing legislation with the extension of the lump sum fine for joint smokers. According to Stanislas Spilka, head of the Surveys and Statistical Analysis Unit at the OFDT and editor of the Eropp survey, "Cannabis is positioned in a completely different way than other drugs. This is a net change that must be compared with its diffusion in the general population. The latest major surveys have shown that it is no longer a generational phenomenon or a marker of youth.

For Fabrice Olivet, Director of Autosupport of Drug Users (Asud), "This French tolerance for cannabis is linked to the changes that can be made internationally". The latter regrets that the problem of the perception of substances in relation to the underground economy and their sale was not addressed in the survey: "If the approach had integrated societal issues such as the economy, crime and the suburbs, or a question about cannabis as a consequence of the relationship between youth and the police, maybe the results would have been different." And even adds that "this tolerance for cannabis goes hand in hand with the stigma of increasing heroin and cocaine use. "

Dangerous for those around them

Increasing in their consumption on the national territory, heroin and cocaine are considered very dangerous from the first use. More than eight out of ten people say that they are quite or somewhat in agreement that those who consume heroin are dangerous for those around them. Same thing for cocaine. This does not prevent some 98% of respondents from wanting to talk openly about drugs and their effects with young people in order to reduce their risks. In addition, 82% of respondents considered it positive that today there are kits with sterile syringes and injection equipment available to drug users to limit the risk of infection and disease transmission. For William Lowenstein, this proportion shows that "The principle of health prevails over a morality that has long been immoral in terms of health protection".

As a preamble to the survey, respondents were asked to position themselves on their reasons of concern for French society. They declared themselves more concerned with economic, environmental or social problems. The subject of drugs is thus mentioned only by one in eight people.

Charles Delouche

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