• Thomas E. Kilduff, In Newsweekly
[10 May 2006]
THE BUSTING of a drug lab in Dorchester's picturesque Savin Hill puts gay men and their drugs of choice once again in the spotlight. Michael J. Scanlon, 57, was arrested during the early hours of Wednesday, 26 April, on five drug charges including possessing drugs near a school. It's another high-profile example of how crystal methamphetamine not only has the wherewithal to destroy the life of a user and a dealer, but also impact one's society as a whole.
"What's so unusual about this case," says Sophie Godley, Deputy Director of Programs at AIDS Action Committee, "is that it all happened in a community that is very active, where such things did not go unnoticed."
Indeed, whether it is decided if Scanlon will be charged with making crystal meth into higher-grade "ice" or just selling packets of his West Coast shipments, residents of Savin Hill Avenue were noticing a suspiciously high number of visitors to their street in the four months preceding the arrest. An anonymous neighbour of Scanlon told In Newsweekly, "the subject was under investigation and it has been going on for four months. He had visitors all night, Jaguars, beautiful cars with New York plates, they would be 10 minutes in and out."
Out neighbour Kevin Docherty, 50, has lived on Savin Hill for 17 years with his partner. "We are still pretty shocked," he said, "We would see Michael walk his dog every day. He was single. His partner died years ago of AIDS." Docherty said that a lot of his neighbours are gay or lesbian and that it's really a peaceful neighborhood, but in terms of crystal abuse in the larger GLBT community, it comes as no surprise. Docherty says he "started noticing crystal for the first time three or four years ago."
Heidi Moesinger conceded that Scanlon was "nice, although he had a big scary dog." She acknowledged that his name came up during the neighbourhood crime watch meetings and only recently found out that meth is explosive.
While Godley acknowledges that everyone in the Boston area has been touched by substance abuse, either with friends of family members, the making of meth usually falls in one of two categories. "Meth labs," she said, "tend to be located in extremely poor housing stocks. In rural communities you'll find them in trailer homes with far-away neighbours, and in coastal areas they are usually in depressed neighbourhoods." Godley says there is a huge risk of explosion, but the burn
victims are usually people who live directly on the premises, children of manufacturers, roommates or the manufacturers themselves.
The Scanlon residence "meets the criteria to be deemed a methamphetamine laboratory," according to a 29 April statement by the Mass. State Police. The criteria was decided by the DEA Clandestine Drug Lab Unit, said Lieutenant Anderson of the Mass. State Police Public Affairs Unit. Boston Inspectional Services now has authority as to whether the house will remain standing.
While none of the neighbours spoke of any crime rippling beyond the alleged long-term drug transactions, meth can lead to other criminal behaviors. "Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant associated with aggression, violence, psychotic behavior," says A National Institute of Drug Abuse pamphlet entitled "NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Methamphetamine." If tried and convicted, Scanlon could face up to 22 years in jail, not counting for any charges of distributing drugs in a school zone.
Another recent gay-related drug bust was more of an accidental discovery. On 13 November 2005, on 368 Congress Street in nearby South Boston, MIT graduate, Kevin McCormack, died of a heart attack while having sex. An ecstasy lab and storage unit was later found in his apartment.
And last week's Boston Sunday Globe reported that another gay Bostonian, Dale Bernard, is going to jail for similar reasons as Scanlon. Bernard pleaded guilty to six counts of distributing meth shipped from the West Coast. He was given a seven year prison sentence and five years of probation, after a lengthy DEA investigation.
"The problem with crystal," says Godley, "is that because it is so potent, people can get hooked even after one hit."
"Users may become addicted quickly," says a National Institute of Drug Abuse Information fact sheet about crystal meth, "and use it with increasing frequency and in increasing doses."
"Crystal meth is really different," says Jonathan Scott, president of Victory Programs. While Scott agrees that alcohol is still the number one offender in the GBLT community, he is finding men, and women, who become solely entwined in meth's grip. "We are seeing gay men lose partners, homes and jobs with an incredible acceleration. It takes only a couple of years for them to develop a late stage addiction. It has been particularly pernicious and insidious, especially with people who have never had a history of addiction or crisis."
Godley acknowledges that crystal use can affect a broad economic swatch. Like alcoholism and cocaine use it has a particular stranglehold on the gay male community in New England. "This drug at this time mixed with HIV is deadly," she says, "It can dramatically rob people of what they have."
Scott gives full credit to Boston Public Health Commission Director, John Auerbach, who, three years ago, spearheaded area efforts to combat the rise of crystal meth. "John convened a large meeting. It was a grassroots movement involving AIDS Action Committee, Fenway Community Health and Victory Programs in a co-ordinated effort to take crystal meth abuse from every angle: residential, outreach and prevention."
Victory Programs, the residential component of the ad-hoc task force, which has 18 live-in sites for those recovering from substance abuse, has always been GLBT welcoming. One recovery house is an eight-month residential treatment with 24 men in the South End where many recovering addicts are gay and/or HIV+. Scott says that clients can be referred to the Victory Programs; either with the help of their therapists or a cold call themselves.
In addition to residential treatment programs, there are three Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) meetings based on 12-step principles that meet in Boston. "There is a lot of intervention from distraught lovers," Scott says. "The thing with crystal is that withdrawal can last for many, many months, with incredible depression, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts.
"Often," he adds, "recovery takes a while." •