To combat a growing tide in both sexually transmitted diseases and the abuse of meth-amphetamines (crystal meth), the Whitman-Walker Clinic hosted a community forum Monday night addressing "Crystal Meth and the LGBT Community. " The forum, intended to publicize the increased use of crystal in the gay and lesbian community and provide a non-judgmental discussion of the effects of the drug, was part of this week's National LGBT Health Awareness Week.
"From a community standpoint, we have received a number of new client referrals due to the increase in crystal meth use, " said Whitman-Walker spokesman Michael Cover. "As crystal meth has become more a part of our culture we need to find a way to let community members make a healthy choice in regards to crystal use. "
Educators at the forum warned of the highly addictive nature of the drug. Crystal meth gives users increased energy, stamina and a sense of euphoria, which can lead to powerful cravings for the drug and physical dependence. Many crystal users complain of difficult comedown episodes of exhaustion and depression after use, due to a reduction in both appetite and the desire to sleep. Medical experts agree that long-term use of the drug can result in serious mental and physical problems, such as psychosis and paranoia.
Besides the physical and mental tolls crystal can cause, the drug has also been linked to increases in risky sexual practices.
One participant in the forum, who requested not to be identified by name, decided to enter treatment three months after he found out he was HIV positive. "I found out...that I became positive while doing crystal, " he said.
He then began treatment at Whitman-Walker Addiction Services (WWAS) and went on to help start the local chapter of Crystal Meth Anonymous. "I started recovery because I wanted my life back, " he said.
Initially the group would meet once a week and only about six people would show up per meeting. Now he said there are three meetings per week, with about 15 to 20 participants at each meeting. He said that he's one of the few members of the group with over a year of sobriety because crystal is so difficult to quit.
Another ex-crystal user at the forum, Bill Pullens, backed up that sentiment. Pullens said crystal use gives "a false belief that you're thinking clearly. " Pullens has used his personal experience with "party drugs " to help others in recovery through his Personal-Professional Life Coaching practice.
Stephen McDonnell, program manager of G-Net, Whitman-Walker's education and prevention program for gay and bisexual men, sees the forum as one step in building a stronger, more unified community. "We need to help members of our community feel better about themselves, whether they be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, " he said.