They know the effects. They’ve seen the damage. And enough and is enough.
Community leaders and health care professionals in South Florida’s gay community are joining forces to fight an old enemy — Crystal Meth. Recently on top of the Conrad Hotel in Fort Lauderdale Beach, members of SunServe’s Guardian Circle raised $10,000 in a matter of minutes to stop the rise of what some in American feel is an epidemic.
“It’s a horrible drug and we all know someone who has been ravaged by it,” said Mark Ketchum, SunServe’s executive director.
SunServe, South Florida’s largest social services agency for LGBT community, is the fiscal agent for the group No More Meth, which aims to “conquer and combat” the drug’s resurgence, said group member Dr. Joel Kaufman.
“It sounds like it is coming back with a vengeance,” said Kaufman, a psychologist, who has seen firsthand the horrors of meth use. “Your brain is truly hijacked on this drug. There’s nothing in this drug that is not toxic. It’s loaded with battery acid and all sorts of other harmful things.”
Meth is short for Methamphetamine and goes by many names on the street – crystal meth, Tina, ice, glass – but its effects are all the same. The drug, whether injected intravenously (slamming) or snorted, gives users an enormous high.
Mark S. King, a gay blogger and AIDS advocate, has written candidly about his addiction to meth.
“There is something unique about the drug’s mystique as a sexual liberator that appeals to men who are so often judged by their sexuality,” King writes. “Just as I once did, countless men are abandoning their relationships, their careers and their personal dignity in pursuit of the insidious thrill the drug promises but never delivers.”
Such risky behavior is what concerns social workers.
“Methampetamine causes the brain to release a torrent of dopamine,” said Dr. David Fawcett, a clinical hypnotherapist who writes about meth and gay men for the HIV/AIDS website TheBody.com
Fawcett said meth has been around a long time, was once known as speed, and is very popular in rural areas.
“Crystal meth anonymous meetings are overflowing right now,” he said.
No More Meth has been active in the fight for the past 12 years. The group, like the drug, has gone by other names with the same mission.
“Our task is to provide resources for health and wellness,” said Kaufman.
And it’s a difficult task.
Kaufman said it’s important to not hit gay men with what he calls “scare tactics” to keep them away from meth. Gay men, he said, are already battling many other stigmas and to throw at them images of rotting teeth, hair loss and drastic wasting would not be the best approach.
“Gay men are tired of hearing they are bad,” Kaufman said.
Fawcett agreed, adding, “Gay men carry a lot of layers of stigma and shame. Scaring them doesn’t do any good. It’s more about getting them to handle the cravings.”
One website is seeking to do just that. Tweaker.org, a San Francisco based website, is in operation to provide helpful information about the gay meth lifestyle without any heavy handed condemnation.
Tweaker.org acknowledges the open secret that gay men are using crystal meth and is very frank in its analysis while providing ample tools and resources for those seeking to curb or stop their use.
“We keep Tweaker.org going because a lot of us make potentially dangerous choices while we’re high on speed,” the website states in its welcoming introduction. “A lot of the choices that we make while we’re high come with results that we didn’t think about or didn’t want to think about.”
Aside from research, other solutions, Kaufman proposed, would be initiating a series of town hall style discussions with health care professionals and law enforcement, many of whom are on the front lines of this growing problem.
Fawcett agreed, noting the demographic he sees most affected among gay men is those ages 40 to 50.
“They are experiencing issues of aging,” he said. “They do not feel as attractive anymore and meth gives them energy and self-confidence. There’s also a huge sexual component to it.”
The sexual component, Fawcett said, leads to risky behavior and ultimately contraction of diseases like HIV.
“A lot of [people] in the community are tired of seeing their friends crashing and burning,” Fawcett said.
And that’s where SunServe is there to help. The Guardian Circle’s fundraising effort was a big wakeup call for the community.
“Mark [Ketchum] is the epitome of a great leader,” Kaufman said. “When we came to him for help after hearing about meth’s resurgence, he said we’ll find some way to make it happen and they did.”
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South Florida CMA