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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Gay Meth Problem From The Inside

Posted by on September 13 at 12:29 PM

Following the summer’s mass media blitz on the meth epidemicthe good folks at Gawker (who did the Lexis-Nexis work and the math) determined that July 2005 saw an average of 8.87 stories about meth published every day in America the new issue of the national gay & lesbian newsmagazine The Advocate devotes itself to the problem of meth and gays from the inside.

It’s not pretty. Of course there are the requisite user horror stories, which are beginning to form a literature all their own, drawing on experiences from across the social spectrum but following the same basic narrative arc: “It was fun at first, the sex was great, and then I came to realize everyone on earth was secretly using their brain waves to kill me.” For the record: I love drugs, but I hate meth. I’ve never even done itwhich I guess makes me a meth bigot, and I’m fine with that. If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything, including sexy poisons that leave you friendless, toothless, and insane.

But the scariest part of the Advocate story focuses on meth addiction treatment options, or lack thereof. Despite the wealth of media attention, some basic facts about meth use remain a mystery. For instance, there's still no official answer about what differentiates an addict from a casual usera key bit of info for determining exactly how many addicts/users we're talking about. Similar mystery surrounds the effectiveness of anti-meth ad campaigns, for much the same reason. (If you don't know how many "addicts" are using, there's no way to judge how many are quitting...)

As for the existing treatment options, health-care providers seem to be feeling around in the dark, either doing their best to fit meth addicts into existing treatment models (say, for heroin addiction, which is a completely different ball game) or attempting to create new models designed to combat the intricate wiliness of meth addiction. One example used by a center in L.A.: contingency management, in which meth users' urine is tested three times a week; if the tests come back clean, subjects are "presented such incentives as retail gift cards." (I can almost hear Dan Savage's teeth gnashing from here.)

What's more, such swag-for-meth exchanges apparently work: "[T]he skills to go 48 to 72 hours without using meth is very complex," said UCLA research psychologist Steven Shoptaw to the Advocate. "The idea of the contingency that is so powerful is that it pits money [against] drugs, and those are primary drives."

Maybe so, but I don't see a nation that refuses to pass basic civil rights legislation funding the purchase of Target gift cards for three-days-clean meth addicts.

It's scary stuff, and as the Advocate package makes clear, hyping the existence of the problem isn't even the tip of the iceberg...