Crystal Meth, Methamphetamine, Meth, Ice or Tina - whatever you call it, it’s a drug with a fearsome reputation. In the United States and Australia usage of the highly addictive drug is becoming a huge problem – so much so that the Australian government has established a national taskforce to tackle the growing use of Crystal Meth.
In the UK, Crystal usage is also on the rise and it’s also becoming increasingly popular on the gay scene in major European cities. On the international gay scene, it’s fast becoming the recreational drug of choice. You’ll find it in saunas and you’re likely to be offered it when you hook-up online. ‘Slamming’ is becoming normalised.
Nicholas Conn is on the frontline in the fight against Crystal. He is director of The Online Rehab, which is globally the first fully comprehensive online addiction rehab for alcohol and substance misuse.
“Our service is has been designed for people looking to receive quick, confidential and highly effective treatment,” Conn explains. “The programme consists of 28 day online group and one to one sessions which deals with everything from relapse prevention, trauma, stress, relationships, coping skills and a whole lot more.”
Crucially, the service is also significantly less expensive than the traditional residential rehab, which in the UK starts at £6,000 and can go as high as £25,000. The online rehab is a low cost effective solution at £1,299.
The initiative also has other benefits, Conn tells me: “People that own their own business or fear disclosure of anonymity, or those that travel a lot for work cannot take 1-3 months away to go into a residential rehab.”
The attraction of Crystal is very powerful. It's seen as the Holy Grail of sex parties: the ultimate 'high'. “A high percentage describe their first encounter as being at a sex party where another person has offered to inject it for them to try as the ‘ultimate high’. They report that it lasts for hours and it takes away all inhibitions and sex feels far more intense and allows them to stay high and have sex for days on end,” Conn says.
“Typically our clients refer to it lasting between 3-5 days. They also describe how they chase the ‘high’ and the energy that crystal meth gives them. They talk about how within weeks of initial use the addiction forms and their use becomes out of control.”
Conn has seen just how addictive the drug is – to the extent that people often become hooked within weeks of their first ‘slam’. But more worryingly still, he has seen a direct correlation between Crystal use and the rise in HIV rates. “Every individual we have worked with over the years has contracted HIV either by having unprotected sex or by sharing needles. Our clients associate crystal meth with contracting HIV. They also refer to a sense of relief having contracted HIV as they no longer have to worry about having unprotected sex and feel safe that current anti-viral medications will allow them to live long healthy lives.”
Then there’s the risk of overdoses: many people have said that that once they’ve started taking Crystal at a sex party, they have been unable to stop.
“Crystal meth can be fatal as it causes a sudden increase in body temperature and blood pressure together with increased sugar levels and heart rate,” explains Conn. “If a user has an underlying heart problem it can lead to a heart attack. Crystal meth users often fail to report to work for several days as the ‘chasing’ the high becomes of paramount importance to the user.“
Negative effects and consequences for the user personally and professionally mount up very quickly leaving the user with intense feelings of guilt and shame that leads them to suicidal thoughts and/or thoughts of self harm.
“Cold remedy pills are often used and combined with other household chemicals such as drain cleaners, battery acids and anti-freeze. We often hear that people have allowed a stranger to inject them resulting in them being physically, mentally or sexually abused as a result of not knowing what is was that was injected into their system. In two recent cases clients talked about how they were left to die.”
What underlying issues does Conn believe drive gay men to use Crystal - and more importantly still, what does the gay community need to do to confront the increased use of this drug?
“Key factors tend to be low self-esteem and the search for/and or the avoidance of intimacy. We often hear clients talk about how they experienced their gender/identity being managed/mis-managed within their family of origin leaving them with difficult feelings of inadequacy, not good enough, guilt, shame and a sense of letting the family down which is a driving force behind their use of Crystal Meth. Early experiences of neglect, abuse (Physical, Sexual and emotional) are often reported.
“I think the gay community would benefit from being educated about the dangers and risks of Crystal Meth. To be made aware of the illness of addiction and to understand that there are programmes available such as The Online Rehab where like-minded people can attend in a confidential setting to help address the underlying issues that cause them to use Crystal Meth.”
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