Guest Post: Eric Leven
Self-Destruction And Meth: An Ongoing Problem

Eric Leven of KnuckleCrack, guest blogging for JMG.

Hell I’ve even said it a few times myself, or maybe just hoped it, “Yeah I don’t hear much about Meth anymore. The message is definitely out there so I guess people are finally listening.”

I say this despite having lived in LA for two years which taught me that more people are casually using Meth than I thought. I say this despite the fact that I’ve seen a few friends continue to “recreationally” use even after losing a friend- or friends- in some way or another to Meth. I say this despite the fact that a close friend of mine tried to persuade me that there’s doing Meth and than there’s doing Meth. To me, doing Meth and doing Meth has always been same thing since nobody begins using Crystal Meth with the hopes they will become an addict.

So why are we still using meth? The answer has to be deeper- it has to go beyond wanting to feel good, or wanting to party or wanting to be uninhibited during sex. There has got to be something within our core, something strong enough that causes us to disregard all the warning signs, all the cautionary tales, and all that we’ve heard, seen, felt or whomever we’ve lost. So what it is it then? Can anybody say? Because the truth of the matter is: we all know meth is a terrible, toxic drug yet people who work in the Crystal Meth prevention world haven’t seen any decrease in the number of people seeking help from it.

The NY GLBT Center recently held a forum entitled: “Meth Movie Night: Is the Meth/Sex/HIV Problem Over for Gay Men in New York?” and according to the article in Gay City News, “judging by the the comments from the audience and panelists, the answer was an unambiguous no.”

Forum: Meth Still a Problem
Speaking at a town hall meeting, filmmaker Jay Corcoran asked, “Why are gay men of all different types and ages still self destructing?” Corcoran, whose 2007 documentary “Rock Bottom” followed seven gay men as they struggled with crystal meth, was addressing the roughly 50 people who turned out on May 20 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

“What I couldn’t believe is that after everything we have gone through as gay men is that really nothing has changed since the ’80s,” he said. “It filled me with rage. It made me want to pick up my camera.”

With an audience filled with former meth users, others who are recovering from sexually compulsive behavior, and some who are dealing with both, much of the two-hour event was taken up with men discussing their personal struggles with meth or sex and their efforts to end behaviors they are uncomfortable with.

The event was titled “Meth Movie Night: Is the Meth/Sex/HIV Problem Over for Gay Men in New York?” and, judging by the comments from the audience and panelists, the answer was an unambiguous no. Opening the evening, Dr. Frank Spinelli, a physician in private practice, described four of his patients who were dealing with meth. Some were occasional users and others were what he called “functional addicts.”

Addiction specialists from the Community Center, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the Addiction Institute of New York, and the AIDS group Positive Health Project (PHP) also spoke. These groups offer harm reduction programs, which aid users in abating the negative effects of drug use without requiring that participants stop using, or abstinence programs in which users stop using. Some, like the Community Center, offer both.

Gay men who use drugs tend to use more than one and that makes the work of these groups more complicated. For many gay men who drink or use drugs, their sex and social lives are entwined with their drinking and drugging. “Some men are quizzical how are they going to meet other men if they give up drinking or using drugs,” said Chris Cochrane, GMHC’s coordinator of prevention services for gay men and men who have sex with men.

The groups also work in an environment in which public funding for such services is increasingly being cut and some Americans, gay and straight, favor law enforcement approaches to drug problems. “I’m astounded by the lack of resources that are out there,” said Terry Evans, PHP’s public health outreach coordinator. “We are also dealing with a public climate that believes that certain people are not worth it.” Antonio Ruberto, a crystal meth prevention counselor at the Center, said, “There is a dire need for additional money and resources.”

While he has not seen a reduction in the numbers of gay men seeking help for meth, Joseph Ruggiero, assistant clinical director at the Addiction Institute, thought the various anti-crystal campaigns have had an impact. “I feel like, as a community, people have a better sense of what is happening around crystal meth,” he said. “The word is certainly out there more than it was before and that word has been strong and very controversial.”

The evening’s most heated moment came when Robert Brandon Sandor, producer of the sex party Brandon’s Poz Party, said the problem was HIV not crystal meth. “I guess crystal meth is going to be the flavor of the month tonight,” he said. “I can look you all in the eye and say you’re wrong.” Sandor, whose party caters to gay men who are HIV-positive, is a proponent of serosorting, or the practice of organizing sex partners by their HIV status. His comments were not well received in a room filled with former meth users and those still battling against the drug.

As audacious and bold as Robert Brandon Sandor’s comment was, I have to say I can’t help but think he might be onto something. Until reading this article, until seeing that quote I never put the two together- that crystal meth lends a hand in helping us forget, at least temporarily, that we live in a time of the incurable sexually transmitted disease, HIV. Maybe that’s what it is? Maybe it is just that which pushes us beyond the warnings, dangers and examples and into using meth with a shrug, or a smile, or a sigh, or a slam. Who is to say? Who is to argue him?

Is it so far-fetched to think those who choose to use meth, despite the ubiquitous dangers, do so because it helps us forget who we are, the time we live in, the risks associated with sex and helps us become the uninhibited, sexually charged, sexually relaxed, sexually empowered people we so yearn to be?

Below a clip from Mr. Jay Corcoran‘s film: Rock Bottom

Eric Leven.