Interview: Marguerite Arène, Fêtez clairs Project, Paris 2007

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Marguerite Arène is in charge of the DASES (Social Action, Childhood and Health Management) drug addiction prevention Mission in the City of Paris.  With the drug addiction project manager at the Paris prefecture, she is behind a harm reduction approach linked to drug use in Parisian night spots.
Catherine Jouaux, the Mission’s project manager, has followed this approach, in which several partners have participated, such as prevention associations, representatives of different professions and of nightclub trade unions, the Drug Brigade’s prevention service etc.  A charter, “Fêtez clairs” (Party while being aware!), has just been created.
EFUS talked to both of them about their experiences and perspectives on preventing drug abuse in this small interview. You may also want to visit the best practice description of the project “Fêtez clairs” which they have implemted with great sucess in Paris.

EFUS: What’s the most important thing in prevention work?
Mission: The effectiveness of prevention.  We must go to where the people are and convince them to listen and to understand to what will be useful to them.  In this case, it’s those who want to go to parties, and it’s for that reason why we chose the title “Fêtez clairs”.  In other words, make the most of your night out without damaging yourself, without being worried and above all without taking and mixing dangerous products. The rigid approach of “Don’t touch it!” in this context does not allow the question of drug use to be raised. We must depend on what exists, recognise people’s habits, and provide clear and understandable information which will reduce the risks…
The central message of one of the two latest tools we developed is this: using drugs multiplies the risks.  So if you mix things, you must at least know what risks you are taking.  Another important point is that accompaniment raises awareness: Where are you with the drugs?  People obviously do not go to night spots to analyse an arduous text.  So, for another source of information, we have opted for a text in the form of speech bubbles.  For example, you can see someone saying “A weekend without drugs? I cannot do it!”, to which the reply is: “is this the case for me today?” These booklets are small in size and are presented in a playful and light-toned way, so that you may want to put it in you pocket in a club … and come back to it later. What’s important with prevention, as we always say, is to be where the people are. In this project, we tell them: “Be responsible for yourself, discover the risks, and reduce them.”

What was the beginning of the project like? What is your approach in this project?
At the beginning, we began with the assumption that drug use in night spots is a reality which clubs, young people, the police, prevention experts – basically everyone has to deal with.  In terms of the risks, accidents do happen, such as comas induced by alcohol or by GHB.  We cannot stand here idle faced with such situations.
The clubs and night spots, which have been a driving force behind the approach, also have to face reality: there have been accidents, drugs being dealt inside these places …even if the managers try to prevent it.  Which of course means they risk being shut down by the council. But for a number of managers, the fact that some of their young customers are in danger also motivates them.
When we launched the experimental phases of the programme (before the Charter was written), we visited clubs and offered training for all of their staff; then an observation phase at these locations to see how the people behaved, what their habits were.  We tried to respond to the clubs’ needs by advising them: there were at times simple things to do, such as making it easier to get cold water and food such as cereal or chocolate bars.  Regarding the role of the staff with the public, we must build on their knowledge and the ways to respond which they have developed (to confront what may be at times delicate situations) as well as help them reflect on the whole situation.  Often those providing the training, who are the driving force of prevention, have said that they themselves learnt a lot from their contact.
Finally, the third part of the approach was appropriate intervention during the evenings whilst adapting to the situations.

How do young people generally respond to the project?
Positively, but we needed to carry out some preliminary work. To go back to the beginning of the project, a working group was formed, co-led by the Paris City Hall and the Prefecture, in other words the State, whose principle was that it was necessary to represent the health sector, public security (notably the Drug Brigade), cultural associations (like for example Techno Plus), prevention associations, but also and of course representatives of different professions and of nightclub trade unions.
The idea was to put everyone around the same table, with everyone having their own expertise and resources … and we needed to advance together by articulating the different points of view and capabilities.
During the first stage we needed to agree on our values and the approach to adopt.  For example, for the police, the concept of harm reduction (monitoring users as they take drugs in order to manage the risks), something familiar to other services, is not a natural idea to grasp.
The partners identified two key points: firstly, prevention, harm reduction and public security are not contradictory but compliment one another.  Secondly, the approach must be completely comprehensive.  The question of drug use must be treated as an extension to promoting health, in other words a long with other issues such as road safety, safe sex, problems with hearing etc.

How do young people, the target group, react to activities carried out directly in places of night entertainments?
Our interventions aimed at young people in these places only happen after the staff are trained and we have observed the location… The prevention professionals who intervene have therefore considered the individual characteristics of the people in such or such a club.  Each time, they adapt their approach whilst taking into account the range of ages represented and habits identified.  They have also noted where and when the favourable places and times are for exchanges in the clubs.  They are not there to “prevent them partying” but to provide the users with useful information. Also, the most often, they are noticed by the young people, and questions are asked, conversations begin … The success of these last two methods, developed by the working group (they were very quickly introduced), appear to clearly show that this information hits the bull’s eye.

What are the most positive and encouraging aspects of this project?
What has become very evident is that some of the interventions during these meetings have been able to develop beyond this joint work.  For example, not only do prevention professionals and the Drugs Brigade training instructors recognise the staff’s knowledge, they also state that they have learnt from their contact with the staff … and they have seen the desire of the managers involved in this approach to “protect” their customers (“why do young people so often go down the wrong path?”).  As for the clubs, they saw the intervention differently from that of representatives from institutions or the police.  Confidence progressively developed.  And this is undoubtedly the case, and it is also clear for everyone involved that such a scheme does not have a free hand … and that any breach of the law will not be tolerated.
The other, most positive aspect, of course, as we’ve already mentioned, is that the young people who go to these clubs welcome the intervention from the prevention professionals.

What do you regret the most about the project?

We could regret the fact that it took so long to implement the programme and to write the charter.  But should we really regret that changing things, in how we respond and behave, took time?  You cannot rush things when you’re working with principally human aspects.  We could have wanted to go faster … but what impact would this have had?

What would you recommend to other colleagues working in prevention, in other European cities?

When we presented our project in Brussels two years ago, our Belgian audience found it very interesting that we had created a partnership this big, and that we had immediately invited the police working group to join (who themselves hadn’t implemented an approach in night spots).  To organise a partnership this large was not simple … that is to say, it took time; time to find a common base on which to effectively work together on. And so that could be described as our leitmotiv… recommendations are also dependent on what the so called “target” groups know themselves (target is a hideous word, and shouldn’t be used at all), about their own expertise, their understanding of their own situation. At times we have seen how many users, or former users, could have been the best way of passing on prevention or harm reduction messages to their peers…
Specifically regarding this “Fêtez clairs” project, which led to the Charter, we are aware that if the night clubs do not contribute to the project today, due to our agreement, we will not be able to help the young people.  These people expect us to be there and to offer them professional prevention knowledge, they expect us to go and find them to inform them, to help them to realise the risks linked with using psychotropic drugs…For this project to be successful, it was clearly necessary to combine our energies.
Away from the reality of the night spots, it is completely necessary to depend on the different partners’ knowledge and capabilities, thus including of course night club staff//managers as well as the users themselves.