Experts warn of HIV-crystal epidemic

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 06 2003 12:00 AM ET

San Francisco health officials are warning gay men that the rate of HIV infection is high among those using crystal methamphetamine, also known as speed, on the club circuit. Some city health professionals have concluded that rampant use of the drug among gay men is fueling behavior that leads to the spread of HIV. "We have all sorts of levels of evidence," said Jeffrey Klausner, MD, of San Francisco's Department of Public Health, "and it's all pointing in the same direction: The crystal meth epidemic is playing an important role in increasing sexual risk behaviors, and that is leading to new HIV and STD infections."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that health experts estimate that up to 40% of gay men in San Francisco have used crystal meth. And a city health department study conducted last year also found that 25%-30% of patients at one local clinic who were newly infected with HIV reported having used crystal meth during the previous six months.

San Francisco officials are planning a televised City Hall discussion Wednesday on meth use. A meeting was held last month in Sacramento at which some of the state's top AIDS and HIV prevention officials in the state came to a dismal conclusion: Gay men in California who use meth are twice as likely to be HIV-positive than those who don't use meth. The reasons for the increase in the drug's use haven't shocked those who follow its use. It's cheap, costing users as little as $30 to get high for several days. Meth is also easy to get in most large cities.

Some health professionals who monitor the health and lifestyles of gay men said that crystal meth fits like a glove with the fast-paced party life of many gays. "It's the perfect drug for gay men," said Michael Siever, director of the Stonewall Project, a speed recovery program for gay men at the University of California, San Francisco. "What else allows you to party all night long whether you're dancing or having sex?... At least at first--before it becomes a problem."

In California one study showed that among the gay and bisexual men tested in 2001 and 2002 at publicly funded clinics, 7.1% of meth users were HIV-positive, compared with 3.7% of those who didn't use meth. Tests of the 63,098 gay and bisexual men showed that 10.5%, or 6,637 men, reported meth use. Researchers also found that condom use was lower among gay men who use speed.

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