Pride Center Panel Discusses Substance Abuse

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A panel of substance abuse experts presented accounts of the party lifestyle Thursday night at the Pride Center at Equality Park.

The workshop was titled “Vodka, Meth, Sex…Lipitor?!: Over 40 (or 60) & still partying?” It was moderated by Bruce Williams, director of senior services at Pride Center.

Related: Lesbian Shares Heartbreaking Story of Abuse and Recovery

“Much of what we learn happens in discussions before this microphone even comes on,” Williams said before introducing the panel.

Kristofer Fegenbush, Chief Operating Officer at Pride Center, opened the public comments with these words: “we know that substance abuse impacts our community disproportionately.”

Described as the “elephant in the room” statistics from a federal agency were disclosed showing LGBT identified Americans report a larger proportion of substance abuse than the general population. Statistics were provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“A lot of relationships go down the tubes when somebody is elevating in their abuse of substances,” said Thomas Nichols, a behavior health therapist at Broward House. “There’s lack of quality time. There’s arguments about things that seem trivial and there’s also a change in intimate relations. People stop being connected both emotionally and physically because now one of the partners has another partner that means more to them.”

Janet Downie represented the Broward Addiction Recovery Center (BARC) on the panel. She said she represents the mature adult program – those ages 55 and older.

“It’s not that easy to bring an older person into recovery, but once they’re in, they catch on,” Downie said. “We find that a younger individual doesn’t necessarily have [a sense of] too many consequences.  If they’re in their 20s, their brain hasn’t fully developed.”

For the mature, recovery is the only option left. Long term substance abuse causes homelessness, Downie said.

“Sometimes the individual simply does not have a choice because physically we are breaking down,” Downie said. “We can’t drink the amount that we use to.”

The most powerful moment in an addict’s life, Downie said, is when they realize they need help and ask for it.

“That’s what keeps us coming back,” she said. “We see the lives change. It’s the beauty of healing and we all deserve that.”

David Fawcett, a clinical hypnotherapist, spoke of the dangers of methamphetamine use among men who have sex with men. Fawcett is the author of the book, “Lust, Men and Meth: A Gay Man’s Guide To Sex and Recovery.”

Fawcett explained how meth users experience a surge in dopamine levels in the brain. During recovery, Fawcett said, the biggest challenge is learning to have healthy sex -- substance free.

“If someone gets clean, their sex life goes with it,” Fawcett said. “If someone gets a sex thought, they get a drug thought. That makes it extremely difficult in recovery.”

Fawcett said the government’s ban on Sudafed, a nasal decongestant allowed Mexican drug cartels to flood the market with cheap, low-grade meth. Gay men, sex workers, HIV positive people and immigrants are extremely vulnerable to the harms of this street drug, Fawcett said.

Craig Benoit, a nationally certified interventionist, was the final panelist to speak to the crowd of just over 15 people at the 90 minute workshop. Benoit said he has been “clean for 24 years from this disease.”

“People call me,” Benoit said. “I do assessments, I do insurance verifications and then I get them into detox.”


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