Gay Times December 12 - Issue 413
Global Drug Survey
There’s no disputing the gay community takes more drugs than our heterosexual counterparts. But our desire to push boundaries and experiment with new substances has become the biggest risk to our lives since HIV. Now with the launch of the new Global Drug Survey, GT looks at how you can change attitudes and treatment with the click of a mouse
More from Gay Times December 12 - Issue 413
We don’t need a survey to tell us that drugs are as much a part of many gay lives as clubs, bars and sex.
But when we only discuss it among ourselves or when social use becomes an addiction, how can we find help if those who are supposed to provide it aren’t aware of what we’re doing?
Whether it’s because they’re illegal or we’re ashamed to admit we rely on drugs like Crystal Meth, GBL Mephadrone or Cocaine to get our kicks, poorly questioned surveys are only skimming the surface of what’s needed to help both educate and treat.
That’s why GT has partnered up with the Global Drug Survey (GDS) to ask for your help. Dr Adam Winstock, consult addiction psychiatrist and founder of the GDS, hopes 30,000 LGBT members will take part in the world’s biggest ever drug survey, with the results to be revealed exclusively in GT early next year.
So why should you bother?
“GT readers need to make their voices heard,” explains Dr Winstock. “We want to know what drugs you like using and what you need help for. Policy makers base their information on government-led research and don’t ask the questions that are pertinent to people who like taking drugs.
“We also want to look at things like prescription drug use, drug function and sex, drugs and pleasure and internet addiction. There are people out there who use drugs and have a very good time so we want to find who are the happiest drug users. The GDS also identifies unmet risks and what gay people are enjoying and not enjoying. That info can inform better drug policy and better treatment planning.”
A 2010 Home Office-funded report by the UK Drug Policy Commission revealed there was ‘an urgent need’ to rethink how addiction agencies and doctors support minority groups. It suggested health officials need to make us listen by trying new ways to grab our attention, like social networking sites.
It also claimed most drug services are of ‘little relevance’ to many gay groups. And that’s an opinion shared by Antidote, the UK’s only LGBT drugs and alcohol service. It sees 8,000 LGBT people annually and helps 900 people with treatment each year. 90% are using Crystal Meth, GHB or Mephedrone.
“In the past, drugs services were capable of dealing with the LGBT community until we started using Crystal Meth, GHB and GBL,” explains David Stuart, Antidote’s spokesman. “The NHS doesn’t understand those drugs and isn’t equipped to deal with them.
“The Home Office has no idea how many people are using new drugs or the dangers. So there are a hell of a lot of gay men getting poor care from NHS drugs services. Antidote has to raise money itself by using data from surveys. If those surveys aren’t examining what people are doing, then we don’t have a hope of raising the money to help people who need it.”
Dr Winstock adds: “Treatment services are just not LGBT friendly. There’s also a stigmatised portrayal around some parts of the gay scene, like Vauxhall in London. It’s associated with a range of very high-risk sexual behaviours. It’s a private world which some users have a sense of shame for being involved with.”
The 2010 Drug Policy Commission review estimated that 75% of LGBT people had taken illegal drugs at least once, while between 30-50% had taken them in the last year. 10% of heterosexual people regularly take drugs, compared to 33% of us. If we’re as cultured and intelligent as we’d like to believe, why have 17% of us snorted a white powder without knowing what it was? And even worse, in a third of those cases, why did we do it when we admit we didn’t trust the people who offered it to us?
There’s a multitude of reasons why common sense goes out of the window. Experts believe it can often be linked to deeper mental issues, such a homophobic bullying at school or home, which damages self-esteem and can create self-loathing or mental health problems later in life. Many people use drugs to self-medicate their pain, which leads to bad habits that last well into their adult years.
Then there are gay men from small towns who move to a big city to be part of a community. Once they feel like they belong, they feel more comfortable, become less inhibited and they’re more likely to experiment with things previously unavailable to them.
And as our lives are more likely to revolve around club and pub culture, drugs become more widely available meaning they’re harder to avoid and you’re more likely to indulge in high risk taking behaviour. Especially with sex.
“For 30 years, HIV has been the biggest threat to gay men’s health,” adds David Stuart. “But now the biggest threat is sexualized drug use. GHB and GBL do the same job as alcohol; they’re an antidepressant, they make you feel confident, help you sleep at night, wake you up in the morning, help you dance and help you have sex.
“Crystal Meth can keep you awake for three days and some men are having sex with ten different partners over a weekend. When you’re high and horny, you’re in a pretend world and nothing matters including having safe sex. Then when you’re back in the real world, you have to face the consequences. Antidote’s philosophy is harm reduction. Do what you want to do with your sex life, but if you want to do it safely, come and talk to us.”
Of course the problem of drug use is just not limited to the UK. Nearly one-third of 3,500 gay and bisexual men aged 15-22 surveyed for the American Journal of Public Health admitted they used drugs at least once a week. And lifetime use of cocaine was nearly twice as high as that of the general age group.
Many rehab facilities claim high levels of gay men lapsing after treatment for fear of not being part of their communities again or enjoying the nights out they’ve been used to.
The 2011 GDS study revealed 23% of gay men admitted they needed to use drugs to have good night out. But an astonishing 85% of us would like to know how our personal drug and alcohol use compares to other people. Information like that spawned the Drugs Meter – an online and smart phone app that allows you to anonymously compare your use of drugs with thousands of people across the world. You can work out how much you’re using; how much you’re spending; adjust your use based on your own personal risk factors and, if you want to know, it’ll also tell you if you’ve got a problem.
“Most government websites say ‘drugs are bad, stop doing them’,” says Dr Winstock. “But you can’t have dialogue with some someone who likes taking drugs when you’re telling them to stop because it’s stupid.
“We know drugs can be a fantastic source of pleasure for people and that has to be accepted in a non-judgmental way. We’re saying ‘here’s a way of going about enjoying your drugs with advice on minimizing the risks.’
“There are three million recreational drugs users in the UK. Most of them will never have problems, but some of them will. The Drugs Meter is trying to single out their use in a way that’s not telling them it’s good or bad.”
But however revealing the Home Offices’ 2010 study was, its own authors warned that much of the evidence was ‘extremely limited and often of poor quality’ and although the most comprehensive available, it ‘should be interpreted with caution.’ Which is why GT readers need to take part in the next Global Drug Survey, launching later this month.
“Most surveys are not reflecting what’s going on,” adds David Stuart. “Charities like Antidote need to have the facts so we can give them to places like the Home Office and NHS to get funding to help those people who are suffering.
“And the only way to do that is through accurate information. Which is why we need your help.”
Fill in the Global Drug Survey online at globaldrugsurvey.com/mixmag2013
(Survey goes live on 23 November)
For further drug advice see
Pick up the latest copy of GT out in all good retailers, online and downloadable on your iPhone or iPad.
Words: John Marrs