Photography by Alessandro Simonetti for Out
Late last week, The New York Times published a startling report on the uptick in crystal meth usage among gay men of color.
Reporter Mosi Secret visited the Downtown Brooklyn offices of Gay Men of African Descent. According to councilors at the service agency, which mostly serves H.I.V. positive men, meth is now a major scourge among the black community. According to Chris Johnson, a therapist at GMAD, many as 20 percent of his 300 clients were meth users. Another councilor at the center put that figure at 30 or 40 percent.
“We’ve had people that have come in here and they are in full psychosis,” he said, lamenting, “You get them grounded, and then you send them back out to the same environment.” Johnson says the fact that meth is a sex drug further complicates the treatment process.
Secret cites the work of NYU physiologist Perry N. Halkitis, whose last study reported that most meth users in New York City were H.I.V. positive and black. Halkitis says that homophobia within the black community is a factor which that gay black men more vulnerable to meth addiction than their white counterparts.
“Many [black men who have sex with men] have been ostracized by their families,” writes Secret. “Many fled to New York from Caribbean countries where they were targets of violence because of their sexuality. In New York they are less stably employed and at greater risk of contracting H.I.V. Meth users seeking to get sober must often sort through those issues.”
A decade ago, 85 to 90 % of meth users in the gay community were white, according to addiction specialist Joseph Ruggiero. Now most users are black or hispanic, a change which Ruggiero noticed two or three years ago.
Ruggiero participates in a treatment program called Crystal Clear, in which he and other clinicians address the factors of race, sexual identity, and internalized homophobia. Ruggiero and his colleagues ask those in treatment to abstain from sex for 90 days. Some patients are required to get rid of their computers, so as to prevent them from cruising the internet.
“I think you have to build something for yourself if your goal is to stay sober,” Dr. Ruggiero said. “Sometimes the message of ‘Don’t use drugs’ can feel so depriving. A lot of the guys who I worked with who have been so successful, we helped them stop using drugs and rebuild other parts of their lives.”