Former child star Danny Pintauro recently told Oprah Winfrey of his past crystal methamphetamine use and how it directly led to his HIV diagnosis. While the world tries to wrap its head around the Who’s the Boss? cherub’s hard-core drug dependency — for which he was obliquely shamed by The View’s Candace Cameron Bure — it’s clear our society still fails to see how intertwined gay life and crystal methamphetamine is.
While the Emmy Award-winning TV series Breaking Bad, about a former high school teacher who transforms himself into a murderous meth mogul, left an indelible mark on our culture, the show did not feature a single LGBT addict. Even on shows that revolve around gay life or feature LGBT characters — Looking, Empire — meth addiction does not play a role.
While we would never allow the erasure of the LGBT story from the official reportage about the spread of AIDS, we are passive about the exclusion of the LGBT community from the facts about crystal meth. We perpetuate, by our own inaction, a stereotype about this drug as “hillbilly heroin” — a down-market substance for poor white heterosexuals.
And yet the facts belie this story.
The International Antiviral Society-USA reported in 2006 that the use of methamphetamine is five to 10 times more common in urban gay and bisexual men than in the general U.S. population. At the time of that study, IAS-USA reported, “Data from San Francisco and Los Angeles indicate methamphetamine use within the prior 6 months in 13% and 11%, respectively, of gay men.” And the problem has worsened since then.
Black gay and bisexual men are using meth in increasing numbers in New York, according to The New York Times. Counselors at Gay Men of African Descent, a New York-based service agency, say between 20 to 40 percent of their clients are addicted to the drug. Certainly not coincidentally, the HIV rate among African-American men who have sex with men is shockingly high, with six out of 10 predicted to be HIV-positive by the age of 40.
Yet depictions of meth on film often portray users as poor, uneducated, and straight, as in Spun, Winter’s Bone, and SLC Punks.
Attractive, articulate, Stanford-educated Pintauro, the antithesis of the crystal meth addict we often see on police procedurals and legal thrillers, hopes to raise awareness of the drug’s insidious spread into gay life.
“I want to be the example of what can happen if you get into drugs; if you’re being promiscuous; if you’re not taking care of yourself; if you’re not being checked,” Pintauro says.
His example should redirect our efforts toward helping gay men, many of them professionals and top-level executives, who have severe addictions to crystal meth. At a minimum, the public needs to know the facts, and Hollywood needs to respect the truth; maybe then it will be easier to demand more money and resources from Washington to fight this scourge among our community.