"THE discussion on METH
in the UK feels a lot like it
did in NEW YORK in 1998,"
PERRY HALKITIS told the
CHAPS conference in 2005.
"The time to START taking
effective action is NOW."
THAT the long-predicted full-scale meth epidemic in the UK has yet to emerge is reassuring news, but crystal meth is becoming rife among hardened gay clubbers in London...
• Revised September 12, 2009
"IT'S HAPPENING HERE! It’s blowing cocaine out of the water. You don’t get cocaine in gay clubs anymore. The majority of people are on G and crystal meth. That’s the reality. Go to St Thomas’ Hospital and ask them how many gay men they had in A&E in the last two weeks, admitted through GHB. Ask them how many people they have in from crystal meth. It’s rife”.
~ DJ Fat Tony
Pre-emptive efforts by LIFE OR METH in conjunction with the Met Police led to reclassification of crystal meth from Class A to Class B by the Home Office on 18 January, 2007. As a Class A drug, meth possession now carries a maximum seven year prison sentence for possession and life imprisonment for dealing. Scotland Yard's Working Group on Meth's successful petitioning for the new law now enables it to vigorously pursue meth suppliers, dealers and manufacturers.
"The serious and well-documented dangers associated with production and use of this drug in all its forms will now be substantially easier to combat," said Simon Bray of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). "It will also be possible to close down, for long periods, premises used as illicit meth laboratories. We had a false start when cocaine started arriving and took our foot off the accelerator. That was a mistake. If meth was to take off here in the way it did in Minnesota or Georgia we might not have much time. They thought it was not a problem, and now look."
The push for reclassification followed the publication of an internal police report that showed that crystal meth was now present, to some extent, in almost every town and city in England and Wales. The ASPO study found that the drug is being produced, sold or used in every area of the UK, and that increasing levels of meth is turning up in other drugs - notably heroin and cocaine - meaning some people are taking it without knowing.
District Judge Justin Philips, the lead judge in a West London drug court, says: "Crystal meth is becoming more of a problem. It's moving out of the clubs on to the streets. It's probably the most addictive drug that is available." Because each person who comes to court on a drug order is now tested with or without their knowledge, Judge Philips has noticed an emerging trend. "A lot of them don't know they are taking [crystal] - cocaine is cut with it, skunk is being cut with it, which may be in an attempt to hook people, as it is so addictive."
The police reported in 2006 that a Filipino crime network was preparing to exploit lucrative inroads already made into the commercial gay scene by targeting the UK mainstream with mass supplies of meth from America and south-east Asia. Police intelligence reports had also identified meth labs operating in the UK, including five in London as well as the Hampshire, Coventry, Nottinghamshire, Teesside, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. Scotland Yard's Working Group on Meth has been surveilling the distribution of meth within London's gay community, and a year ago arrested the then most prominent supplier to the scene.
In December 2006, three men were found guilty of conspiracy to produce up to £1.3million of meth in a barn on the Isle of Wight, leading to the first UK conviction for manufacturing meth. Only days earlier, armed police carried out a dawn raid on a semi-
detached house in Hayes, West London, seizing enough chemicals to produce 15,000 grams - the first time that industrial amounts of meth ingredients had been incovered in the UK. A year later, what is believed to be the biggest meth laborartory in Britain to date was uncovered in the tranquil setting of Stoney Middleton in Derbyshire's Peak District, and North Wales police cordoned off two areas in Mold and, wearing chemical suits and breathing apparatus, and raided and searched several homes, seizing chemicals and laboratory equipment used to make methamphetamine.
In another pre-emptive strike, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency held a meeting in June 2007 to debate the restriction of medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine via a change to their legal status from pharmacy to prescription only, together with a reduction in pack size, but no further action was taken. Similar restrictions in the US have seen a dramatic decline in the number of meth labs seized by police. Drug manufactirers lobbied heavily against the proposal, but in August government medical advisors announced a compromise whereby large packs of decongestants would be replaced by 12 or 24 tablets containing a total of 720 mg of the drugs limited to one pack per customer; enough for three days' treatment.
In late 2005, London's Most Dangerous Drug? report on ITV demonstrated how easy it is to buy meth on London's streets, while a drugs survey in Mixmag found that 28% of UK clubbers knew where to buy the drug.
At the same time The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs reported to the Home Office that "there does not appear to be a firm foundation and rationale for reclassifying methylamphetamine", a response that ignored police recommendations and was seen as a virtual green light for meth's spread from the gay community into mainstream Britain. The Home Office's intransigence was compounded by a frustrating lack of knowledge about crystal from the government's own resources like the National Drugs Helpline and drugs website Talk To Frank, which for years have been unresponsive to efforts alerting them of a potential crisis.
In February 2006, a spokesman for drugs charity Drugscope told Sky News that it sided with the decision to keep meth Class B while "hoping and praying" it would not become the next mainstream drug, then suddenly changed tack a year later when Drugscope issued a statement "welcoming" The Advisory Council's change of heart.
Perry Halkitis, an eminent psychologist at New York University, told the eighth CHAPS conference in Bristol in March 2005 that meth's addictiveness can make occasional use rapidly escalate to regular use, as occurred in New York in the late 1990s. He pointed out that as recently as 1998, crystal was mainly a west coast phenomenon in the US with only around 7% of New York MSM (men who have sex with men) using. However, by 1999 the number of users had leapt by 50% - to around the same number of MSM in London who admitted to using meth in a recent University of London Survey of gymgoers. The difference between the two cities, Halkitis added, was that New Yorkers were using meth every weekend instead of once or twice a year as the survey respondents claimed - a trend that could eventually be replicated here.
"The discussion on crystal in the UK feels a lot like it did in New York in 1998," Halkitis told the conference. "The time to start taking effective public health measures to make sure it doesn't take over the UK scene is now." Harm-reduction messages like limiting use and planning safer sex before using worked for some MSM, he noted, but meth was so psychologically addictive that among those most vulnerable to addiction the only effective measure was mental-health work targeted at underlying issues like depression. Halkitis's advice went ignored by CHAPS, and four years later most scene-goers know of at least one person who has succumbed to meth addiction.
"If we want to avoid a renewed crisis, we have to do something that is very difficult for gay people: we have to restigmatise bareback sex and make crystal meth socially unacceptable on the gay scene. The alternaive is another mass culling of the gay poplation."
~ Johann Hari [Attitude Magazine]
CHRIS, a 24-year-old who takes the odd ecstasy pill on a night out, was totally clueless about meth when invited to "party" by some guys he met in a South London club in November 2004. Returning with them to a nearby flat, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. "Before the music was even turned on, the crystal came out," Chris told LIFE OR METH a week later. "I'd never heard of "Tina", but everybody else was taking it so I took some too."
Chris had never been passive during sex, yet for the next 12 hours each of the eight guys proceeded to penetrate him without condoms. "They were talking as if it was the norm," says Chris. "Maybe it is at these parties, but did I care at that moment in time? No way. All I cared about was getting as many dicks inside me as possible. We all became animals. Two days later, it dawned on me the extent of what had occurred. I spent a day in a sexual health clinic and have to take 14 tablets a day for a month [PEP] before I can take an HIV test. I would never have unsafe sex - that night I had unsafe passive sex with at least three guys that I know were HIV+. Just one bump of Tina is all it takes, and you want more and more."
Chris's story is a disturbing insight into the infiltration of meth into the London scene. Clubbers have reported being offered hits of "k" or "coke" by predators, then find they are unable to sleep for days on end. "I was wired, depressed and near suicidal up to a week," says Dan. "This is how they are creating their market, by dispensing free hits and making us dependent on them once we are hooked. It's evil." Meth is also available in London's saunas where it is freely offered, not least by dealers keen to hook potential new clients who, once addicted, will keep coming back for more.
Despite the lessons of North America, most of London's club scene has failed to respond to the rise of crystal, and could even be fueling its use with a surge in after hours events and around-the-clock clubbing. Promoters and club listings mags have instead channelled their efforts and resources into stamping out the noticeably messier effects of GHB, which one zero-tolerance campaign hysterically described as "the drug that destroyed New York nightlife", prompting some to turn to meth for an alternative kick while others bear the brunt of meth-fueled anti-social behaviour. "There is no question that the London club scene is losing its edge and funky freshness," adds Dan. "The vibe, particularly in the Vauxhall clubs, is becoming hard and uninviting, psychotic even, and more and more people are staying at home."
In late 2007 there were two deaths and 15 known collapses related to GHB/GBL in the Vauxhall/ Southwark area. That this drug poses a threat to the London scene is not in doubt, but do the effects of meth - which aren't immediately messy but are progressively debilitating, chronically affecting the abuser psychologically and physiologically for days on end - make it a drug that club promoters and sauna operators can afford to turn a blind eye to? Said DTMP promoter Lee Freeman in 2005: "Blue Cube does not welcome anyone using crystal. "Furthermore, we will bar anyone found with it on their person for life. Using crystal is vile and stupid, and definitely isn't a good look. Don't let ignorance kill our customers and the best club scene in the world."
By the end of 2007, the london gay scene had become the latest gay mecca to implode, as the damage wrought by the effects of those using crystal meth and GHB/GBL continued, resulting in dwindling crowds and notable club closures, the once seemingly invincible Action, Beyond at The Colesium, the monthly Salvation and DTPM among them...
During 2007 alone there were half a dozen deaths of gay men in London where meth is known to have been involved, including the suicide of a Hot House Video porn actor who died after overdosing from injecting meth.
Tellingly, it was the mainstream television news that prominently covered his death, which went completely unmentioned - along with all other meth-related deaths - in a shameless gay press that provides unfettered coverage of GHB casualties and fatalities. But then, it is GHB that poses a more visible and immediate threat to the club scene and, in turn, the gay press's advertising income...
"In any Vauxhall club these days you can be sure that upwards of 20% of people are using meth, hence the change in atmosphere and declining numbers. Crystal destroys everything it touches, and we are seeing its impact unfold like a train crash in slow motion."
~ PC [Disco Damaged]
"Why do I have this nagging feeling the gay scene is losing touch with what's really important - compassion for the safety of your fellow man..."
~ Clint Walters [Founder, Health Initiatives]
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