We've all seen the scary images of methamphetamine's toll on the body: the remnants of a handsome face reduced to a visible skull with sunken eyes, withered skin and one really bad case of meth mouth.
Such visuals, at one time widely used in drug prevention campaigns, may have had some value. For one thing, they certainly got our attention. Until recently, many gay men in our area were naïve about meth's downside and its potent and destructive addictive power. Florida arrived late at the meth party and we were able to learn a great deal about the epidemic and what to expect from gay communities on the west coast. But even treatment professionals were unprepared and uninformed about meth's unique properties.
These grisly illustrations, however, also had unintended consequences. Men struggling with meth took one look and went deeper underground. The images did little to assist them in stopping the drug, but did a lot toward increasing their shame about using it. Others in the community who never tried meth were appalled that anyone would use a drug that could do that, and a rift opened resulting in further polarization.
The South Florida Meth Task Force, founded in 2003, responded to this knowledge gap by providing "Meth 101" for over one thousand front-line professionals, including therapists, substance abuse counselors, EMTs, law enforcement officers, teachers, physicians, and HIV prevention workers. The Task Force, through the cooperation of multiple agencies and the volunteer time of many individuals, helped get the word out about the risks of meth and other substances among gay men as well. Soon the meth problem became increasingly obvious. People we cared for were crashing and burning all around us and many were asking (as tweaker.org noted) "remember when sex without speed did the trick?"
Now, no one can claim they are unaware of meth's inherent risks. But knowledge itself, unfortunately, is ineffective at fighting dopamine-fueled drug cravings. Scary skull pictures do little except remind users about the harm they are causing for themselves. While self-help groups have become increasingly available, south Florida has needed additional meth resources, and fast.
Enter Meth and Men South Florida (M&M), a new program of Sunserve (www.methandmen.org) that grew out of the South Florida Meth Task Force. M&M is dedicated to the support of men in our community struggling with the crystal meth epidemic. Their website already lists resources in south Florida, and will soon grow to include other informational pages. M&M is dedicated to filling gaps in services and in the near future will begin a therapy group focused on sexual issues in meth recovery, sliding-scale individual counseling, and a variety of other events like town hall meetings.
Save the creepy pictures for Halloween. With groups like METH 911 we can face a really scary problem together and discover that action and community trump fear every time.