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Studies Show Huge Drop in Meth Use Among Gay Men in NYC

| 17 Comments

We did it!  In 2004, gay men in New York City decided to confront what had been our dirty little secret up until then -- crystal meth had become our party-drug du jour.

We forced the city council to appropriate funds for anti-meth campaigns designed by our own community groups (like the one pictured here).  We held packed community forums to discuss what the drug was doing to us.  And most importantly, we started talking to each other honestly about the downsides of Tina.  We helped those among us whose lives were being destroyed -- getting them into treatment, begging them to stop, and caring for each other much as we did during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.

I've been waiting for many years for some good science that would show if any of this helped.  Did we start to turn away from meth in 2004 and the years that followed?  The study results I've been most anticipating are finally trickling out.

The CDC started the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance (NHBS) system in 2003.  This system keeps an eye on behaviors known to spread HIV, surveying MSM ("men who have sex with men," i.e. gay men), IV drug users, and heterosexuals living in areas with a high rate of AIDS.  They did the first survey of gay men in 2004 (November 2003 to April 2005, to be exact), and found that in New York City, 14% reported using meth within the last 12 months.

The CDC finally ran NHBS-MSM2 in 2008, their second survey of gay men, using the same techniques as their first survey, thus allowing researchers to look at trends over time.  Meth use stats for individual cities have yet to be published, but I contacted the principal investigators in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to get their new numbers, and was pleasantly surprised.

In 2008, only 6% of gay men in New York City reported using meth during the previous 12 months.  That's a 57% drop from the percentage reported in 2004.

There was a similar drop in San Francisco, which ran many of the same meth prevention campaigns designed for New York City.  They reported a meth use rate of 13% in 2008, dropping from 22% in 2004.  Los Angeles still has work to do, with a much smaller drop -- 13% of gay men reported using meth in 2008, vs. 16% in 2004.  Meth will always be a local battle, and each community's response, or lack thereof, can affect local use.

For gay men in New York City, we responded loudly and convincingly when the worst of this crisis hit, and now we have some evidence showing it worked.  I remain deeply proud to be part of a community that so lovingly takes care of its own.


Peter on:

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Comments on Peter Staley's blog entry "Studies Show Huge Drop in Meth Use Among Gay Men in NYC"

this is excellent news! i have to wonder how accurate the numbers are, given the obsessive paranoia that meth can inflict on users, but i really want to believe this.

in my experience there r some social circles that are an almost direct homage to the movie Reefer Madness, except with meth in place of marijuana. a genuine drug cult, actively seeking new adherents and using various strategies to turn a person "out", into an addict. i've had guys try to literally sneak meth smoke into my mouth, surround me in a group n push the drug, thrown out of apartments for not doing it.

other people have directly relayed stories to me of first experiencing its effects during piss play...the top pissing in their ass or down their throat, and introducing them to the drug that way. i've seen no hint of any of this in the gay press. i can only imagine what else goes on, to people less assertive than myself.

still, even self-reportage going down is probably a good sign. I've grown up around drugs in the ghetto: pot, alcohol, crack, heroin, pills...i've never seen a drug subculture like what i've encountered among meth-using gay men. almost every anti-drug caricature fulfilled.

any reduction in that horror is great news!

This is excellent news! Well done New York!!

Does anyone have data for Boston?

Dave, WGB

I'm skeptical. Have these people spent much time on internet hook up sites where every fourth person is pnping? Also, did they profile my upstairs neighbor?! I think not.

Hmmm not buying it.

I think the dance club crowd has grown wise ... but the hook up manhunt crowd has not.

The addiction is not SOCIALLY unacceptable and that will drive down the numbers.

Peter,

I have that same sense of elation you do. Who knows how accurate any drug use data can ever be, and therefore with a level playing field across all illegal drug use... we can be pretty confident that there is a significant and newsworthy drop in NYC. (And thankfully I have not succumbed to my impulses for pissplay. Thanks Jeton for that timely warning.)

At the CMWG, our mission was to achieve this very thing... isolate the drug in gay men's minds, get the usage trend down and remind ourselves and our community to reach out and care for each other. It's a special feeling to read your post and see the numbers drop. WOW... even better than crystal! haha -- not funny.

The question: have we as a community done all we can to reach out to those still using or wanting to use? When "D&D free" is the most prevalant way that gay men describe themselves on websites, I tend to think there is a lot of CONTINUING work to be done on what caring for each other is all about.

Peter, thank you for all the great work you've done. We need your leadership.

After living on West 14th St. for 14 yr.s (over 21 yr.s total in Manhattan), I decided to move out of NYC mainly because of the PnP scene that made nightlife hell to be out in. It's my sincere hope this info you share is acurate & men are returning to their common sense or, better yet, never getting caught in PnP trap to begin with. I will always love NYC & my memories of many beautiful men from all over the world, and wish for a great return of big fun to the events all over that hip city. Great men deserve a great city.

As someone who is still involved in developing, implementing, funding and trying to evaluate services and poilcies that will assist gay and other MSM meth/polydrug users in the NYC area, I agree with Peter that there has been a combined effect of all of our efforts in advocacy, education, services, media and community involvement which has brought down the incidence rate of meth initiation and use in our communities -but I also share concerns that those who are still struggling are not getting sufficient access to effective care and that the recession and the attention focused on other issues, has served to put the critical ongoing issue of substance use and its itnersection with HIV/STDs and other health issues on the back burner again for the LGBT communities. We do have a state "task force" on meth (and other drugs0 in the LGBT communities that the feds and the state convened awhile ago and our next meeting is next week so we are still trying to work with govt. to get better data and better services.

Hi Bruce - While "D&D" free might be a very prevalent self-description for gay men's online personal ads, I find it offensive. Lumping severe drug use or addiction in with HIV status is offensive. It's one thing to promote one's self in a personal ad as being "drug free", but crowing about "disease free" implies that HIV Negative men are somehow "superior" to HIV positive men, thus stigmatizing HIV. I am poz, and I have been with/married for over 7 years with a neg man. We have a robust sex life, and after nearly 8 years, he hasn't been infected. Many gay men who are neg automatically shun poz guys without realizing that satisfying (and sexual) relationships are possible for sero-discordant couples. Even if I were neg, I'd much rather date a poz guy who was sober or at least a "normal" drinker or even very light user of something other than meth, than date an active crystal user. Lumping "D&D" is really confusing the two issues carelessly and impractially. We already have too much of this awful attitude that neg is the "good gay" or "clean", while poz is the "bad gay" or "dirty", when we are ALL sucking dick, guys. "Stated" HIV status means nothing; everyone should be practicing safer sex (most importantly meaning not bottoming raw) and not taking a trick's "word for it". Words don't protect you, safer sex does. In that case, your trick can be poz or neg.

Hi Peter,
I read your blog with great interest. It is good news to hear. It appears that the battle on this front is obviously on our side,for the moment, but the war is not over, nor will it ever be. God willing, I will celebrate 6 years on March 30, 2010. I lost my freedom due to my addiction to meth. And, even though I am gay, my cross over to becoming positive was not due to unsafe sex, but rather to shared needles in my drug use. I am so grateful to be out of that chaotic world of addiction. Being a gay recovering addict who is also positive means I have a lot of baggage-but with my life focused on a better path, I tend to follow directions and take my medicine as directed, workout on a regular basis, eat sensibly and steer clear of drugs and alcohol. I may never have the perfect body or the perfect life, but life is blessed and I am grateful for what I do have today. And this is a direct result of the path I walk today - clean and in recovery. My hope is that others will stop killing themselves with meth and try a new way to live..freedom from active addiction.
darylkw

You took a chance. You risked a lot. And now it's paying off with results. Kudos to you.

A few years ago you put up a few ads in my neighborhood--Chelsea. These ads carried the ironic message that a meth pipe came free with a life-time of addiction and misery. They were eye-catching. And, more importantly, they helped begin a discussion that was long overdue. A lot of important developments followed--in particular our mainstream organizations getting involved in more effective meth education. But you started it.

So take a bow, Peter. You did it.

great news peter... and again you are validated by following your heart...

""Stated" HIV status means nothing; everyone should be practicing safer sex (most importantly meaning not bottoming raw) and not taking a trick's "word for it". Words don't protect you, safer sex does. In that case, your trick can be poz or neg."

VERY well said, Ken. I hope you don't mind if I steal that phrase - "Words don't protect you, safer sex does." Truer words were never spoken.

I hope that this is true but I doubt it based on what I've seen and experienced. Just go on Craigslist and do a search for for PNP, clouds, or party and you'll see what I mean.

Or just look at the bareback only sites that are out there and how everyone seems to be ignoring safer sex messages of the past 26 years and thinking that it's OK to bareback with a select few people who you think are HIV neg or who are very newly infected and show up as neg or that if you're a top you won't get HIV and that if you have HIV you can't become reinfected or give strains to other people. It's sad and crazy how many people of all orientations, especially straight people, seem to think that barebacking with people who you're not in a monogamous relationship with and who have a sexual history that you don't really know is a perfectly safe and healthy thing to do.

Granted people are still going to use crystal meth and PNP despite messages and if they are addicted unless they want to get sober and change they are not going to care about the anti drug messages.

People PNP everywhere not just in NYC's gay ghettos of Chelsea and Astoria in Philadelphia's [sic] Gayborhood, in the Castro, in West Hollywood/Silverlake, or any other gay ghettos across America.

Even when I lived in the middle of nowhere people would PNP.

What the researchers do not know or don't want to accept is that even drugs like Booze and herb someone can PNP on and they can lower someone's sexual inhibitions and make them do things that they would not do sober. Granted they are not crystal meth but some people's inhibitions do get lowered while drunk or on other drugs and they do things sexually that they would not do sober. I think most people have had at least one drunken one night stand even if it was just to decide that sex with strangers and while drunk was not for them.

I know one total bottom who would PNP on Oxycontin and heroin.

While I do not have one night stands anymore I always assumed that whoever I was having sex with both men and women that they were Poz and I did not bareback and I would ask them if they were into IVing drugs, PNP/Crystal meth or having sex while on drugs and I did not have sex with people who use drugs or drink alcohol before sex and I never did high risk sex with strangers.

I also know and am friends with many people who either do or once did IV drugs and shared needles and you would never know this about them unless they told you.


edit: in the 2nd paragraph when I wrote about people who are newly Poz showing up as negative on tests I meant how there are people who have frequent bareback sex and will show up negative on an HIV test that's taken then and there when they are first infected then show up being Poz 6 months later.

It's also very disturbing how many people seem to be into barebacking even with total strangers and act like it's no big deal at all, even gay men who lived through the AIDS pandemic and should know better.

I do not care how non PC it is we should get the message out that barebacking -as in barebacking when you are not in a very monogamous relationship with a partner, and becoming Poz on purpose because you do not want to use condoms and have safer sex are not acceptable things that any sane and rational human being should or wants to do.

I am sick and tired of all the nutty bug chasers and men who act like becoming or being Poz is no big deal and that have the dangerous attitude that being Poz is somehow exactly like being diabetic.

I have also met people who foolishly believe that HIV meds are like taking a daily vitamin with zero side effects at all, and that herbs and homeopathy can actually reduce HIV until it is like a minor cold.

I think this article is totally untrue. Crystal meth use is on the rise, along with bareback sex, bareback porn, etc. The author or the founders of the study must be talking to gay men who are afraid to tell the truth or listening to what they want to hear. Crystal meth use in NYC is RAMPANT. Go on Manhunt, to a bath house, a party or wherever-it's there. Believe me I know-I live in NY and have participated in this culture. I am not proud of it, but most of the time, I find that it has become de rigeur in gay life. Trying to stop doing it is also incredibly hard. You really do have to stay away from certain places, people and websites.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Staley published on January 11, 2010 2:00 PM.

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