The crystal party is over

More addictive and destructive than alcohol or marijuana, crystal meth has become the drug of choice for gays. We need to do more than just acknowledge this is true. We need to take action

BY Jerome Cleary

August 24 2005 12:00 AM ET

Newsweek magazine recently gave national cover exposure to the deadly horrors of America’s most dangerous drug, and we now cannot escape the reality of crystal meth.

The most horrifying part of the article was the map of the United States showing areas with the most rampant use and how badly the crystal meth epidemic is hitting us.

Years ago our common battles were booze, cigarettes, and pot. Today we are faced with prescription painkiller abuse, heroin addiction, and now methamphetamine abuse.

But we are not just talking simple abuse. In West Hollywood, Calif., we have an epidemic of crystal-meth users. Let’s not kid ourselves. Ask anyone who has ever been online in the middle of the night: The Internet is filled with gay men who have been tweaking all night long who go to online chat rooms looking for PNP, which is shorthand for “party and play.” This goes hand in hand with gay men who want to have bareback sex.

How has this happened? Even in a tony town like West Hollywood, where we have had town hall meetings to talk about combating crystal-meth use, we do not have a handle on this epidemic. Just like the rest of the country.

About five years ago the L.A. Weekly newspaper had an article about the Internet, reporting that the number of people who shopped online was highest between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. These numbers had quadrupled in a four-year span, from 1996 to 2000. What the article’s author did not cover—or probably even consider—was the all-night tweaking people, high on crystal meth, who had gone online to solicit partners.

One of the most striking characteristics of this epidemic of drug abuse is that the demographic includes all ages, which is even more horrifying.

When I attended New York University, crack, or rock cocaine, was just beginning to peak. I would come home from work to my third-floor walk-up apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and find young adults about my age smoking crack at the front door.

I would say to them, “You can’t do that here.” One time a young woman responded, “We’re almost finished.”

Crack vials littered my apartment building’s front steps, and I would call the crack hot line listed in the New York Post to have the police clear the street.

But today young and middle-age people are doing crystal meth throughout the country. There is no universal hot line to call to clear the nation’s streets. So how do we address a problem that is everyone’s dirty secret? When I say “everyone,” I really mean that somehow we are all responsible. Don’t we all have a responsibility to tell someone, to confront someone online about their lives, their health, and their addiction? Do any of us have the need to help anyone when the user is a meth-head?

I have watched acquaintances bottom out on booze and pot. But booze and pot seem so tame compared with crystal meth today. Usually a sane person gets away from a crystal-meth user as fast as he can, since trying to help can turn violent.

Five years ago on my cable TV show I interviewed Kathy Watts, the executive director of the Van Ness Recovery House. She told me that crystal meth is an attractive drug because it can suddenly charge you up to go all night after working all week. The drug gives you the energy to party all night long.

After all, we are bombarded through television, advertising, and pop culture to want the “maximum,” what's “new and improved,” what’s “stronger,” what’s “double strength, the “ultimate,” the “extreme.That is exactly why the drug of choice today is one that can lift you higher, faster, and deliver quick results. But the cost for this ultimate high is a catastrophic and tragic crash.We’re all in this together. It’s time for each of us to take action, get involved, confront users, educate would-be users, and get a grip. The party is over.

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