Karen Ocamb

Metastasizing Meth Is Eroding Our Moral High Ground

Filed By Karen Ocamb | November 29, 2007 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: crystal meth, LGBT politics, MSM, presidential campaigns, universal healthcare

Takei Jean Mapa Lynch - David Arenas.JPGFor over 25 years, Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, has been a kick-ass advocate for LGBT rights. So like the old E.F. Hutton commercial – when Lorri Jean told 1,000 people at the Center’s recent gala that we are winning the war for LGBT equal rights – everyone listened.

The Center gala featured cozy, comfortable, funny and moving remarks and performances by Shirley MacLaine, Jenifer Lewis, Linda Ronstadt and the Gay Men’s Chorus, Alex Mapa and others.

This year Lorri was more “reflective,” foregoing her usual “give ‘em hell” speech – though she did say there is still “plenty to be mad about.”

But things are changing, Lorri noted: look at how the Democrats courted the gay vote on the Logo/HRC debate. And how stunning that Rev. Pat Robertson – “one of the chief architects of the anti-gay culture wars” - endorsed moderately pro-gay Rudy Giuliani.

So what’s happening?

The answer is simple. And irrefutable. We are winning. The extremist right wing is losing. In fact, I would argue, they’ve already lost. Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be more battles before we declare victory--some of which we will lose. But for all intents and purposes, the anti-gay right wing’s day in the sun is fading. They’re out of step with most Americans. And the rank hypocrisy of their leaders is frequently being exposed. Family values icons caught with prostitutes, gay and straight. Caught embezzling. Caught doing drugs. Caught in airport bathrooms. Their base is growing disaffected.

At the same time, the younger generation is on our side, not theirs. Young people today will be the generation not only of tolerance, but of acceptance. The vast majority of those who grew up watching “Will and Grace” support the freedom to marry. They oppose discrimination against LGBT people in every form and soon they’ll be making the rules.

Clearly, the extremist right wing is on the way out. Increasingly, WE are claiming the moral high ground. The Center is a shining example of that—helping those in need, giving people hope, fighting for fairness, being there for our allies. The bottom line? We have won the culture wars. At least, our ultimate victory is assured. We know it and they know it.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done…. Remember, although they know they are losing, they won’t go gracefully….

Right. And honoree Hywel Sims, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus/Los Angeles, pointed out some of those problems.

Several weeks ago, a new corporate sponsor of ours asked if we would add a line to a grant request we were submitting to them.

Could you, he said, confirm that the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles is not a terrorist organization?

Several responses - most of which I couldn't repeat in such a glamorous setting - came to mind. I could have told him that in the State of Alabama, gay groups appear on the local Department of Homeland Security (a good example of a badly-named department) website under 'terrorist groups'. But thankfully, we're not in Alabama, although we do have more than a few refugees from the south in our Chorus….

Then I realized what I should have said to our sponsor.

We're not terrorists, but we are revolutionaries. How could we not be - we're gay! For that has been, is now and always will be our role as gay people… - we are revolutionaries. Which, given the times, means telling (or singing) the truth.

Because today, telling the truth has once again become a revolutionary act.....

But the truth is that few people are talking about the cancerous crystal meth epidemic silently metastasizing under the surface of the LGBT community.

Last spring, for instance, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center released a press release with preliminary data of a study they conducted that showed that men who have sex with men [MSM] and used crystal meth in 2006 were five times more likely to test HIV-positive than MSM who did not use the highly addictive drug. According to Mike Rizzo, manager of the center’s crystal meth recovery services, 25% of the 6,360 MSM they tested for HIV and other STDs said they used meth at least once, compared to 18% of the 5,300 MSM tested in 2005.

Here’s the kicker: 43% of folks newly infected with HIV reported some meth use.

And all these numbers came out before the CDC reported on the new rates of HIV and STDs and the new super-bugs. To some of us, it feels like 1984 when our friends just began to disappear….

This is not just a West Coast problem. A recent news story out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina methamphetamine study suggests increased risk for HIV transmission reported a new study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine that one in 20 North Carolina MSMs used meth in the preceding month at rates 30 times higher than levels in the general population over the same period – also increasing the spread of HIV and other diseases.

According to globalhealthvision.com, lead author Scott D. Rhodes, Ph.D. M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy, said:

“Until now, there has been little data on meth use in the Southeast….Our findings, including that meth users were more likely to be HIV-positive, suggest that prevention, intervention and treatment efforts are urgently needed....The HIV/AIDS epidemic is clearly not over. We must develop innovative intervention approaches designed to reach communities at highest risk. Men who have sex with men, whether or not they identify themselves as gay, who use drugs like methamphetamines are clearly at higher risk. Yet currently nothing is being done in the Southeast.”

Yesterday in Sacramento, representatives for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Nov. 28 as “Methamphetamine Awareness Day" launching a $10 million statewide campaign designed to stem the tide of meth use, particularly among MSM, women 18-25, and minors 12-18.

Some of the facts they presented:

  • More than 2 million Californians have used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime.
  • Methamphetamine is the primary drug of abuse for 36% of individuals seeking publicly funded treatment. AND Californians represent 38% of methamphetamine treatment admissions nationwide.
  • The State spent nearly $285 million to treat methamphetamine addicted individuals in the publicly supported treatment system in 2005.
  • Women of child bearing years are over represented in treatment, with over 43 percent of all admissions.
  • Approximately 80 percent of women admitted to treatment for using methamphetamine have minor children.
  • Methamphetamine is a factor in approximately 80 percent of child neglect and endangerment cases.
  • Methamphetamine use among gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Surveys show that adult men who have sex with men are more than 10 times as likely to report recent use of methamphetamine than are heterosexual men or women.

I may have missed it – but I can find no news reports of the Meth Awareness initiative in any of the major California newspapers today. And no one has asked the presidential candidates how the crystal meth crisis fits into their health care plans.

That means that – as in the early 80s – we need to inform our own.

Since last January, IN Los Angeles magazine has run a regular meth column called the “X-Meth Alliance,” featuring first-person accounts as well as useful resources. For our next issue – the one on the streets for the holidays - we will also examine how this new government initiative may raise awareness but has not increased treatment beds and out-patient programs for those who want to get off the incredibly addictive, brain-altering drug.

We strongly urge all HIV/AIDS, Equality organizations and LGBT media become engaged in this crisis.

After all, what’s the good of winning the war when so many of us will not be "all there” to appreciate it?

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Karen, you're so on point. I used to work at the center in Long Beach and here's some startling statistics about the LBC.

Long Beach has the 2nd highest HIV infection rate in the country. 60% of new HIV patients in Long Beach are meth users. And there is also a 90% increase in the number of people infected with syphilis. Most of those patients are co-infected with HIV.

Meth is wreaking havoc on our community. And it's going to take a lot more to address this problem than a couple of focus groups and empty promises from government officials. You're totally right on. It's going to take us as a community taking action.

And BTW - Lorri Jean is an AZ State alum, which makes me so proud! :^)

Jerame's parents live out in the middle of nowhere - complete country backwoods. As you drive down the dirt road to their house, you go past several other lots. Most of them now have these burnt out, twisted wrecks of old trailers - all meth labs that have blown up.

Indiana has actually taken meth pretty seriously. The usage in rural America - and especially Indiana - has skyrocketed. If I remember correctly, it's our #1 drug now. :(

That's true, Bil. I remember when I lived out in Walla Walla, that meth was a huge deal in terms of media coverage and signs and what people were talking about, etc. Umatilla, OR, which has a population of no more than 10K, had the biggest meth problem in that state. It's such a problem outside of big cities.

But the big question is: what can we do about it?

I really appreciate this information and the way it is presented. I might use it for my intro to research class, but for sure will feature it in the Carnival of All Substances this week. Thanks.