Drugs and gay men

I made a speech about drugs and gays in Parliament today. Ok, so I wasn’t actually in the House of Lords chamber, just in a room near it, but it was a chance to talk about a big gay health issue which hasn’t been given enough attention.

The event I was speaking out was a launch for a new study which gathers together all the available research on drug use among lesbians, gay men, bisexal and trans. There were also launches for studies looking at the disabled and black and minority ethnic communities. It’s all been produced by the UK Drugs Policy Commission, an independent body, which chose (which I also edit) as its media partner for the report, alongside The Voice.

The results are quite stark (albeit not surprising). Gays are far, far more likely to use drugs than others – with club drugs being particularly popular among men and cannabis with lesbians.

You can read the reports on this here and here.

I started by saying how pleased I was to be supporting this research, which argues for an “evidenced based” approach to drugs (rather than a knee-jerk political reaction). And I explained that the titles I’m in charge of would continue to report on these issues to make sure you are informed and can take part in the debate. This will include reports in the September issues of GT and DIVA looking at the male and female (respectively) findings from the study, so make sure you pick those up.

Here’s what I went on to say:

“I’m excited because this report gives us a solid foundation for understanding the nature of drug use among lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans people. And, as such, creates some big opportunities and a few dangers.

“I’ve long thought that the pressing need to tackle sexual health problems among gay men has overshadowed other health issues. The fact that gay men and women are far more likely to drink, smoke and take drug, for example, has never been given the attention it needs.

“That’s why are relatively few targeted services and most of the drugs education messages out there don’t contain gay imagery or reflect our lifestyle.

“Would a mainstream advice service necessarily understand that a night out clubbing can be one of the few outlets a gay man has to ‘be himself’ and express his sexuality? Would that same gay man feel able to talk – to a regular drug referral service – about how his drug use is also tied up with his sex life?

“Realising this and acting on it is an opportunity not just to do the right thing, but to be more effective and ultimately to save money.

“There is a chance, if the recommendations in this report are accepted, to make a real difference without patronising, pathologising or, worse, criminalising those people who need help.

“There are dangers too – for example I believe that a legal crack down on LGBT drug use, which is one possible response to the figures in this report, wouldn’t change behaviour but would reduce gay people’s trust in the police.

“Instead I urge an approach that recognises that some people who take these drugs have their use under control but others need help. That educates everybody and provides a safety net of support for those who need it.

“Lastly I would say that far too little has been done to promote alternative, healthier lifestyle choices for our LGBT community. At the moment that community still revolves around bars and clubs which explains many of the problems we have. But we can provide healthier alternatives if we choose to – for example by putting official support behind the growing number of grass-roots gay sports groups. Tackling drugs and other LGBT health issues is going to require that kind of out-of-the-box thinking and concerted action. And the time to start is now.”

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