Open-Air Crack Market Plagues Paris Neighborhood

By Kelly Burch 08/26/19

A local police chief said that the crisis came to a head when low-income apartments were gentrified, forcing many people onto the streets.

police patrolling area near open-air crack market in Paris
ID 101997038 © Aleksandra Suzi |

Each week, in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris—caught between turmoil and progress—police clear out a well-populated "open-air market" for crack cocaine, only to have it reappear almost instantly. 

The neighborhood, La Colline, has long had challenges brought by poverty, but the flourishing crack market has made it unbearable, say drug users and residents alike. 

Charly Roué, a drug user in the neighborhood, told The New York Times that drug users “compare La Colline to hell.” He continued, “The locals who live nearby and suffer from the chaos we bring must call it hell too.”

Rafia Bibi, an immigrant from Tunisia, said that the drug use has destabilized the neighborhood that she moved to. “We had our share of burned cars, weed trafficking and prostitution, but the violence and misery among migrants and drug addicts have made this neighborhood barely livable,” she said. 

A homeless immigrant, Nivmud Singh, said that crack cocaine, which sells for about $17 for a rock, permeates the area of La Colline. 

“Crack is everywhere here, it’s impossible to escape from it,” Singh said. 

What Led To The Crisis

Emmanuelle Oster, a police chief in the area that includes La Colline, said that the crisis came to a head when low-income apartments were gentrified, forcing many people onto the streets. That, she said, transformed “an invisible phenomenon into an apocalyptic situation.”

“That just can’t exist in a city like Paris in the 21st century,” she said. 

Oster is using a heavy police presence in the area to try and fight the crimes, but it is an uphill battle. She said that more drug traffickers have been arrested in the first half of 2019 than in all of the previous year, but despite that the problems still exist. 

Aid groups are also working to try to help the situation, but to little avail. 

“We urge them to come see us in our offices so they can find some rest, but they say we’re too far from them” said Yves Bouillet, a social worker in the area. The office of the charity that Bouillet works for is about two miles away.

Officials plan to open a safe use facility for drug users, but local residents, including Toufik Aouchiche, worry that will not solve the epidemic. 

“After all we’ve been through, city officials want to let the drug addicts stay by setting up a drug room here,” Aouchiche said. “But have they asked us what we think about it?”

Still, drug users like Roué say that the only way to stop using is to get away. 

He said, “The only way to stop smoking crack is to leave Paris. We should all stay away from La Colline.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.