Crystal persuasion

BY Charles Kaiser

December 05 2005 1:00 AM ET

Speed kills. That was the hot new slogan in the Bay
Area—in 1968. The year after the summer of
love, legions of hippies shifted from pot and LSD to
the ’60s version of crystal meth—and the human
damage created by this migration was suddenly visible
on sidewalks all over San Francisco.

As we have
discovered with a vengeance, the dangers of speed have to be
relearned by every new generation. It hasn’t been
easy to convince some gay men to stop doing something
that enables them to fuck for hours (or days) just
because it happens to fry your brain and destroy your body.
But the good news is, some imaginative new

approaches in San
Francisco actually seem to be working. The percentage
of gay and bisexual men in San Francisco who use crystal
meth dropped from 18% in the first six months of 2003
to 10% just two years later—a decrease of
almost half.

Those numbers are
based on 4,197 surveys collected by San Francisco’s
Stop AIDS Project, which bills itself as the nation’s
largest collector of data about the behavior of men
who have sex with men. To get the word out, Stop AIDS
is using everything from T-shirts emblazoned with the
campaign’s "Crystal Clear" logo to an ambulance with
blinking lights in the Castro, surrounded by hunky
volunteers passing out literature. T-shirts may seem
hopelessly hokey, but they offer ex-addicts an easy
conversation opener when they’re trying to
proselytize about the drug’s dangers.

These facts about
crystal, listed on 8,000 postcards distributed from a
hundred different locations, seem to have been the most
effective: It’s more toxic than crack.
It’s more addictive than heroin. Gay and bi men on
crystal are twice as likely to have an STD and four times as
likely to get HIV. Four times. Crystal is made
of battery acid, Drano, and propane or starter fluid.

Stop AIDS
spokesman Jason Riggs credits the decline in crystal use to
multiple approaches undertaken in San Francisco, including
those from the mayor’s Crystal Meth Task Force.
The city-sponsored Positive Reinforcement Opportunity
Project, or PROP, allows people to come in with a
clean urine sample and get a monetary incentive to stay
clean.

The Internet,
which helped to create this epidemic, also seems to be
effective in halting it. At Tweaker.org you can find
resources and counseling, a forum where recovering
addicts share their stories, and an interactive
graphic that lets you run your mouse over various body parts
to find out exactly how crystal destroys them. INSPOT.org
offers a painless way to notify your latest partner
that you may have shared more than a few hours of
passion. (“INSPOT” stands for Internet
Notification Service for Partners or Tricks.)

Riggs thinks
drugs “go through natural cycles of being popular.
Our approach is to give people education about the
dangers of crystal meth so that they can inform others
about its dangers.”

The fact that
almost every gay person in San Francisco now knows someone
who has destroyed his life with this drug has also had the
desired shock effect. Just as the loss of dozens of
friends to the AIDS epidemic scared my generation into
safer sex, the visible destructiveness of speed
finally seems to be persuading a new generation to exercise
a little more caution about what they choose to
ingest.

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