Health officials in Chicago are extremely worried about rising crystal methamphetamine use among gay men in the city and point to a nearly 37-fold increase in meth-related emergency room visits since 1994 as a sign that crystal use is soaring in the city, the Chicago Tribune reports. Meth-related visits to city hospital emergency rooms in 1994 totaled just 97 cases; in 2004 that number had risen to 2,582 cases. A study by health officials at the Howard Brown Health Center also suggests meth use is rising. Of 4,000 gay men surveyed by the center 13% say they use meth--4.6% said they had used it within the previous 60 days. About one third of the meth users also said they sometimes have risky sex while high on crystal.
Some health officials say they are expecting HIV infection rates among crystal users to start rising because many gay men high on the drug engage in unprotected sex, sometimes with several partners in a single night. Health and gay advocacy groups in the city have launched meth education campaigns and formed a Crystal Meth Anonymous program structured on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. But meth programs are hindered by an ongoing lack of city and state funding, says Dan Lustig, clinical director of the Haymarket Center, a substance abuse clinic. The state has cut almost $6 million from drug treatment programs since 2001 because of budget shortfalls. More cuts are expected in the fiscal 2005 budget, activists say.