SUMMARY: A San Francisco study reveals that crystal meth use combined with unsafe sex is a growing problem in the gay club scene.
A new San Francisco-based study reveals that methamphetamine use combined with unsafe sex is a growing problem among gay and transgender late-night club-goers.
The "Party and Play Study," conducted by the AIDS (news - web sites) Office of the San Francisco Department of Public Health (news - web sites), revealed preliminary results on Jan. 10 to the city's HIV (news - web sites) Prevention Planning Council that men who use crystal meth, or speed, a popular drug on the late-night dance scene, tend to be less cautious when it comes to practicing safe sex.
The six-month study examined the habits of 391 men and male-to-female transsexuals who had sex with men during the previous six months and who often partied between midnight and 4 a.m.
The study confirmed a correlation between drug use and a rise in HIV infection rates through both risky sex and injecting the drug, but some health officials view the risky sex as the larger culprit.
"There's a fair amount of evidence that people are aware of the importance of sharing clean needles," said Michael Siever, director of San Francisco's Stonewall Project, a group that works with men using or addicted to speed. "But it's quite common that people high on speed have high-risk sex. Sex and speed will happen regardless if people are injecting or not."
Of the 391 participants in the study, 84 percent reported non-injection drug use in the previous three months, and 64 percent of this group used crystal meth. Of the 35 percent who reported injection drug use during the three months, nearly all (94 percent) reported injecting speed.
A majority of those taking drugs during late-night partying admitted to having sex without a condom. Of the 81 percent who responded to having anal intercourse, nearly two-thirds did not use protection.
The HIV status of participants: 69 percent reported being HIV-negative, with 31 percent positive.
The study also reveals a greater need, health advocates say, for outreach to gay men and transsexuals who frequent late-night clubs with a message relaying both the dangers of drug use and the imperative need to use condoms during sex.
"HIV is still killing people," said Dr. Ron Falcon, board member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. "We need better education that's more focused. Both drugs and HIV need attention. People tend to know more about HIV than drugs. Now, unfortunately, drug use is associated with the spread of this disease that's killing off our community."
While speed use and HIV now seem to be receiving more attention, Siever said he's seen it as a problem for 10 years. The study confirmed his fears.
"(Crystal Meth) is the No. 1 drug of choice behind alcohol," he said. "The numbers (revealed in the study) are higher than I expected. Many more people inject speed than we realized. It's of great concern."
Isn't that an oxymoron? How do you "share" a "clean" needle?