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,” Kaufman said.
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. Whether the drug is injected intravenously or snorted, it gives users an enormous high.
“It causes the brain to release a torrent of dopamine,” said Dr. David Fawcett, a clinical hypnotherapist who has written extensively about meth and gay men for the HIV/AIDS website TheBody.com.
Fawcett said meth has been around a long time and was once known as speed.
“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 has gone by other names with the same mission.
“Our task is to provide resources for health and wellness,” Kaufman said.
And it’s no easy 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.
Instead, Kaufman proposed 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 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.”
Visit www.SunServe.org for more information.
Crystal Meth Anonymous Meetings in South Florida
Lambda South Clubhouse, 1231-A East Las Olas Blvd., Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m.
Pride Center, 2040 North Dixie Hwy., Wilton Manors, Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 p.m.
Lambda Clubhouse, 28 North East 54th Street, Miami, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.
SoBe Room, 1718 Bay Road, Miami Beach, Thursdays 8:30 p.m.