By John Dennem
John D. Tigner
Intro Expository Writing 1179
April 18, 2006
Research – Final Draft
When an epidemic affects the general population, there is significant attention paid to it. Conversely, when the epidemic is affecting a seemingly insignificant part of the population, there is little if any attention given. When some efforts and/or programs are implemented to treat an epidemic, and there is little tangible success in treatment, it cannot be said that the epidemic is being successfully treated. Crystal methamphetamine use is the largest untreated epidemic facing gay males in the United States.
Although the numbers are indicative of an epidemic currently, this is not a new drug. Methamphetamine has been used in some form or another since World War II when Kamikaze pilots used amphetamines to maintain courage through their missions (Williams E. 1). The way the drug has been taken has also progressed as the numbers of users has grown. There are currently four primary ways in which to take the drug. The modalities of use are; drinking, snorting, smoking or injecting the drug. Again this is not a new drug and is not a recent matter. The epidemic as a whole has been growing since 1970. Up until that time, no prescriptions were required for amphetamines that were sold over-the-counter (Williams E. 1). The drug recipe as a whole has been manipulated, along with the way that the drug is manufactured. Some of the major components that have not changed are its basic properties and characteristics (Graham 1).
The allure of the drug is that it allows the user to escape from feelings of inferiority brought on by social pressures to being gay (Graham 1). The drugs quality of negating indicated healthy behaviors for risky sexual behavior has a definite negative social impact on the gay male community. It allows the user to act out in destructive behaviors exposing themselves to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the end these behaviors increase burdens on the already strained medical systems. To put this into perspective we need look no further than the recent numbers of HIV infection in South Dakota. The state with the fourth lowest rate of HIV infection in the country has recently seen a direct correlation to HIV infection and crystal methamphetamine use. The rate of HIV infection in gay males has doubled in the last year in South Dakota (Olson 1).
If the numbers of gay males that are affected by this drug were insignificant then there would be no reason to have this discussion. However, Dr. Grant Colfax of the Department of Health in San Francisco recently remarked in two separate interviews using quantitative language the extent of this epidemic. In March of 2005 Dr. Colfax stated, “To put this into perspective, you have to understand that meth use among gays is three to four times higher than it is in the general population.” (Graham 1). Then again in July 2005 he observed, “Most surveys of gay men show that meth use is somewhere between 10 [percent] and 25 [percent].” (Taylor 1). There appears to be no lowering of these numbers in the near future as treatment options are almost non-existent, though there is a movement to teach harm reduction. If you are going to do the drug then try to do it with healthy behaviors. Some of the prevailing thoughts in this matter are; keep hydrated, get enough sleep, practice safe sex and the use of clean needles. David Williams, Health Educator for Desert Aids Project, stated during an interview, “If the children are going to do it, and they ‘are’ going to do it, we need to minimize the negative medical and social impact of the drug by education in harm reduction.” (Williams, D.). Although this has a place in reducing the immediate effect on the individual it does nothing to lessen the negative medical and social impact of the drug due to prolonged use of the drug.
There is a direct link between increased numbers of crystal users, unsafe sex and it effects on the rise in HIV infection among gay men. Ron Stall, Chief of Prevention Research for HIV/AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a March 13, 2005 radio interview stated:
In San Francisco, researchers found that gay men who use meth – also known as crystal, tina, ice and crank – were more than twice as likely to have HIV than non-users. A separate report showed that 30 percent of people testing newly positive for HIV had taken the drug in the last six months. 12 percent to 20 percent of gay men report using the stimulant in the previous year (Bloc).
An interesting point is raised and established by the numbers presented by Dr. Colfax and Ron Stall as they correlate closely to each other. It would appear that many experts are in agreement that crystal meth use has infected the gay male population, with one quarter of the gay male community participating in the use of this drug.
There is another insidious undertone to this drug. Crystal methamphetamine is neither perceived as nor considered a street drug. Crystal is not sold on the street corner like crack cocaine or other drugs are. Crystal is sold in a social network setting rather than on the street (Williams E. 1). This is in stark contrast with the February 2005 meeting of 13 members of Attorney’s General offices in which they agreed that the biggest illegal drug menace in America is the use and production of methamphetamine (“Methamphetamine”). This drug although sold in a social network of friends for the sole purpose of partying and having a good time has certainly eroded the social fabric and health of the gay male community.
Recently a Crystal Meth Task Force has been formed here in the Coachella Valley. They are working in conjunction with the Desert Aids Project to help bring about education and public awareness about this epidemic. There are 12 step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous to help in the recovery process. Lastly, there are harm reduction education programs being administered. If we are going to treat this epidemic, then more research and development of a treatment plan needs to be put into effect. Harm reduction does not address the issue and only delays the inevitable onset of the medical problems linked with prolonged crystal use. With the exception of the 12 step programs, that do work if the individual is willing to do the program as outlined, there does not seem to be a stock answer for addressing this epidemic. There also does not appear to be a clinically outlined treatment program for dealing with this epidemic.
An increase in crystal use has started a second wave of increased HIV infections in gay males due to unsafe sex practices. Having reached epidemic proportions treatment facilities seem to have little to no effect on the users and only temporarily suspend use in 97 percent of the cases, showing what is considered a success rate in only three percent of the treated individuals. The continuation of this untreated epidemic will see an increase in the rate of HIV infection in the gay community in lieu of harm reduction education. There appears to be no completely successful treatment modality at this time. Although not an answer, education and public awareness coupled with intervention prior to use are definitely steps in the right direction.
Analysis: New CDC report on HIV and AIDS. Host Melissa Bloc. All Things Considered,
NPR, KCRW, Palm Springs. 15 June 2005.
Graham, Judith and Jonathan Briggs. “Meth use adds to ravages of AIDS. The powerful, highly addictive drug is growing more popular among gays, and experts believe it’s undermining efforts to promote safe sex.” Chicago Tribune 13 March 2005: Metro 1.
New Medical.Net. “Methamphetamine, biggest illegal drug menace in America.” News-Medical.Net. Miscellaneous News 28 Feb. 2006. 22 Mar. 2006. http://www.news-medical.net/?id=8016>.
Olson, Corrine. “Internet, meth push rate of HIV in South Dakota.” Souix Falls Argus Leader 16 July 2005: Front Page 1A.
Sneider, Daniel. “Sinister Drug Infiltrates Rural US.” The Christian Science Monitor 3 February 1997: Features 1.
Taylor, Guy. “Meth ‘moon shiners’ on rise social costs burden rural jurisdictions.” The Washington Times. 10 July 2005: Page One A01.
Williams, David. Personal interview. 26 Mar. 2006.
Williams, Eric. “Experts see crystal meth-HIV link.” Cape Cod Times. 9 May 2005.
© John Dennem