Caron Honors Kristen

Meth group's Degan praised by national treatment center

by Yusef Najafi
Published on July 10, 2008, 12:00am | Comments

Local resident Kristen Degan was honored with a ''Research Award'' from the Caron Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center, at the organization's Fourth Annual Washington Metropolitan Area Community Service Awards Breakfast on Friday, June 27. Degan was praised for her work with the D.C. Crystal Meth Working Group (DCCMWG) and for a survey the group conducted on methamphetamine use in Washington.

''I'm honored, but I feel very much that it was not an award just for me,'' Degan says. ''I feel like it was for everybody in the group who has worked on this, whether it's been developing the survey, implementing the survey, or helping analyze the data. There have been a lot of people involved.''

Degan, a self-proclaimed ''straight ally'' and director of operations at the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), a GLBT organization, serves as the chair of the Survey Subcommittee of the DCCMWG.

The D.C. Crystal Meth Working Group is an entity that evolved from, among other things, a May 2005 community forum about the drug, sponsored by The Center -- ''Home for GLBT in Metro D.C.'' and Brother Help Thyself, a local, gay, philanthropic group.

''The goal of [the survey] was to just figure out if there was crystal meth being used in D.C.,'' she says. ''That survey was done at nightclubs and bars, and we found that there was a significant amount of crystal meth use.

''That told us that we needed to find out more information. So we developed a longer survey... about different substances that people might have used, as well as some other risk behaviors and HIV status and things like that. It was basically to guide the activities of the working group. We wanted to collect the information so that the working group could then figure out what was needed out in the community.''

From nightclubs and bars, Degan and her team of about 20 people, moved on to Black Pride, Youth Pride, Capital Pride and Adams Morgan Day. She presented her findings during a town-hall event on Nov. 29, 2007.

Of the 1,109 D.C.-area residents who took part in the 14-question survey, 87 people said they had used crystal meth, and 988 said they had not. Of the 87 surveyed crystal meth users: The majority were between 20 to 39 years old; 93 percent were gay, lesbian or bisexual; 69 percent identified as white male; 23 percent were HIV-positive; and 67 percent used other illegal drugs in the past. Of all respondents, 81 percent did not know where to go for help in dealing with crystal-meth addiction.

The drug, which can be highly addictive, is notorious for its popularity among gay men as well as its associated health risks.

David Schwartz, a psychologist who serves on Caron's nominating company and a member of the DCCMWG, says Degan was instrumental in developing the survey.

''Out of the people working in this field from Richmond to Baltimore, she stood out head and shoulders above anybody else,'' he says.

Degan got involved with crystal-meth analysis after working at PreventionWorks!, a needle-exchange program that provides harm-reduction services to people who are injection-drug users. Degan currently sits on the board at PreventionWorks!

''It's basically a way into a community that's really hard to reach,'' she says of PreventionWorks!, adding that she's always been interested in public health.

Other Caron honorees included Joseph Izzo, who has been working with mental health and addiction services at the Whitman-Walker Clinic for 22 years, honored with an ''Unsung Hero'' award; and Baltimore resident Kip Castner, acting deputy chief for the Center of Prevention, Maryland AIDS Administration, honored with the ''Educational Excellence Award.''

''He was nominated in large part because he did all the legwork behind putting on a half-day training program for local professionals on healthy recovery with a particular focus on healthy sexuality called 'Sexual Health and Recovery, a new vision for effective addiction treatment,''' Schwartz says. ''He has also written two one-day programs for GLBT people, called 'Rise' and 'Rise Up.'''

The D.C. Crystal Meth Working Group is online at www.letstalkaboutmeth.org.