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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 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. 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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Charles Kaiser