It is estimated that on any weekend, around 50 "cruise" establishments in London cater for men in search of anonymous and hard "underground" sex.
Such venues tend to draw men with low confidence and poor self-esteem, many possessing addictive and self-destructive personalities. Most sex venue operators show bareback porn and turn a blind eye to barebacking on their premises, participated in by many men who are unaware of their HIV status or who ignore or deride others for using condoms. With the increasing prevalence of meth and GHB on the London scene, veteran cruise club promoter Spike thinks that this attitude spells big trouble for the scene. "There is a real danger that the anti-gay press and politicians will seize on these things and use them to attack the gay community," he says. "This could set the scene back some 30 years and lead to an explosion in hate crimes. The messages [most cruise clubs] are sending out are that diseases like HIV and hep C are no big deal, and that gay men don't have any respect for themselves."
Gaydar has become a popular cruising ground for meth users and addicts looking to participate in "chem sex" and even "slamming parties". Unwitting members are increasingly finding themselves introduced to the drug online, like Nick: "This hustler's profile read 'I have tons of crystal - let's fuck all night!' He's getting people hooked on his so-called wonder drug, and the sex he engages in is 100% unsafe. When I tried raising the alarm neither Gaydar nor Boyz magazine, where he also advertises, wanted to know." Gaydar members have spoken of meth addicts they meet online turning psychotically aggressive and paranoid at the flick of a switch and some have been threatened with physical violence.
Roger responded to a Gaydar message from a guy stating that he was 'rounding up a few guys to party and play'. "I assumed it was a straightforward orgy, but I entered his swish apartment in Chelsea to find a kid of about 20 in a sling being barebacked in turn by a number of delirious, older guys. There were discarded syringes and needles everywhere and I was quickly offered meth to 'slam up'. I left right away, but the depravity of the situation and the hungry desperation that greeted me will haunt me for a long time."
Says Paul, an ex-Gaydar member: "I mentioned on my profile that I was looking for a flatmate. I was astounded to instantly receive an email back from their admin department rebuking me for, as they put it, advertising commercial services - an obscene double standard when profiles are advertising for partners to shoot-up meth and bareback with!"
A study by The UK Gay Men's Health Network records that up to 42% of MSM admit to having attempted suicide.
The report found that gay men suffered proportinately more depressive illnesses and mental health problems than the general population, despite progressive legislative changes which have improved the integration of gays into the mainstream. Such men are particularly prone to addiction if exposed to crystal.
"Only last week a friend told me that you had to be 'near suicidal' to get a referral to the specialist medical health service linked to his HIV clinic."
~ Amanda Elliot [Positive Nation]
The British National Health Service is severely under-
funded in the sectioning, treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering with severe mental illness, and critically ill-prepared to deal with an influx of cases that could arise from epidemic meth abuse. Tim, a Londoner in the deep throes of meth addiction - having de-wired his apartment walls and hallucinated bugs crawling beneath his skin - was reluctantly persuaded to visit a psychiatrist. Medically evaluated as suffering from "speed psychosis" - a condition which triggers symptoms associated with paranoid schizophrenia - Britain's arcane laws governing the mentally ill meant that he could not be sectioned and he was returned into the community without treatment.
Sectioning can only be authorised with the sufferer's consent, yet long-term meth abusers become severely deluded, irrational and volatile, neither comprehending nor accepting that they have a problem. Even were abusers to be admitted forcefully, doctors wield the power to section a patient for no more than 72 hours, and a court order can only be approved for 30 days. After that the sufferer is released back into the community and left to fend for himself, his head still in turmoil and his craving stronger than ever.
10% of gay men in London has HIV and one in 25 in the UK is infected, according to the annual report of the UK government-funded Health Protection Agency, while a third of gay men with HIV admit to having unprotected sex, according to the latest Gay Men's Sex Survey.
2,700 new HIV diagnoses were recorded among MSM who attended STI clinics in 2006 compared to almost 2400 cases in 2005 and 1,735 in 2003 - the highest level since tests became widely available in the 1980s, blamed primarily on a rise in high-risk sexual behaviour. Syphilis infections have also risen significantly: from only 20 cases in 1996 and 130 in 2000, 1,445 gay men were diagnosed in 2005, up from 1,062 in 2004 (people with syphilis are more susceptible to contracting HIV). Hepatitis C is also on the rise, from 60 cases in 2002, 77 in 2003, 85 in 2004, 100 in 2005 and 67 in the first six months of 2006, but the number of new cases of gonorrhoea fell by 13% in 2005 to 19,495 from 22,350 in 2004, the first time fewer than 20,000 new cases had been diagnosed since 1999.
Dr. Mike Youle, director of HIV research at the Royal Free Hospital in North London, has noted a marked increase in crystal usage among his patients and its cancerous affect on their viral loads, and has publicly expressed concern that most users in the UK who are HIV+ are oblivious to the significant dangers the drug poses to their resistance to developing full-blown AIDS. Research shows that the UK already has some of the highest levels of resistance to HIV medication in the
world and levels are increasing. University College London studied 2,357 people with HIV and found 14% had some level of resistance to at least one drug before commencing therapy, suggesting that people were now being infected with forms of HIV that were drug resistant from the outset, including via unsafe sex with somebody who had undergone treatment.
With virtually no awareness initiatives or zero-
tolerance campaigns underway within the gay scene, shamefully it falls on the individual to educate himself about the mental, physical and sexual health risks associated with meth.
By contrast, the mainstream media has been in over-
drive warning of meth's arrival. Time Out, the Daily Mail, The Times, London Standard, Guardian, Independent and Sun newspapers have each featured meth prominently, and it has appeared as the lead story on ITV's evening news and This Morning. The gay press has been comparatively subdued in its coverage, with London scene magazine QX doing more than most to raise meth's profile and awareness, unlike Gay Times "drugs expert" Richard Smith who referred to meth as "a phantom menace" and unbelievably blasted its reclassification ("How unlike New Labour to formulate policy in response to press hysteria.") Nevertheless, high profile mainstream coverage appears to have had an impact: Mixmag's drugs survey revealed that 21% of respondents view meth as "very dangerous", 45% said "dangerous", 31% "in between", 2% "safe" and only 0.8% "very safe".
In North America and Australia, a major part of meth's appeal is its easy availability and cheap, long-lasting high compared to other drugs, a situation that is reversed in the UK where meth is still scarce and prohibitively expensive compared to soft drugs like ecstasy, ketamine and GHB. With meth now being made domestically in the UK, how long before it ignites mainstream UK? Or a meth lab explosion in a 24-storey tower block results in carnage and casualties and is catapulted onto front page news? Will years of vast strides in the fight for equal rights and mainstream acceptance be for nothing if crystal meth is seen as the latest, deadly "virus" to be spread by gay men into the wider community?
ALL THE PEOPLE on the scene I spoke to said that the same thing – the clamp down on G, combined with cocaine being cut “to smithereens” – is fuelling a dramatic rise in crystal meth use.
A quick look at Gaydar, a gay men’s dating website, or googling “chems” and “pigs”+ UK will bring up plenty of talk about PnP (pipe and play: meth drug slang) and slammin’ (sharing a needle of crystal meth).
“Everyone who used cocaine leaves it behind for crystal. It’s a natural progression. And our numbers are showing that,” confirmed David Stuart, a volunteer at Antidote and recovering meth user.
Asked why such a dangerous drug is so attractive to gay men? “It’s about sex. The high is so disinhibiting and energetic. It’s totally about sex.” The health risks are obvious.
LGBT-friendly services are a rarity and not well-resourced. Antidote’s success comes from being run by LGBT people for the community. The small staff is mainly volunteers, who are now being stretched to the limit by G/meth users coming in after being up all weekend.
“When they come down, two days later, they’re at our door, saying ‘Oh my god, I did this and I shouldn’t have. I never do this kind of sex’. And they’re mortifi ed and embarrassed; and they need help,” said Toni Hogg, Antidote’s coordinator and a counsellor.
DJ Fat Tony recently set up an LGBT Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Soho, called Get Over it!. In its first week there were 16 people. Five weeks later, 60-70 people are cramming in a room. The need for help is clear.
He has a message for the National Treatment Agency (NTA). “They need to get their heads out of their arses – cause it is happening. 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”.
I did ask St Thomas’. They don’t know the answer. The questions are not being asked.
We do have a problem. Nobody really knows just how big it is already. The answers aren’t in the NTA but in the 24-hour saunas, rushing through the blood stream, an insatiable desire… •
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