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Gay Star News: Crystal meth is one of the biggest risk factors in gay men acquiring HIV


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Crystal Meth

A new US study finds the biggest risk factor gay men face when it comes to acquiring HIV is whether they regularly use crystal meth. The drug increases sexual risk-taking, among other effects.

The study was published this month in the JAIDS (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes). It tracked almost 4,786 gay and bi men in the US over 12 months. The men, recruited through dating apps, were aged between 16-49 and were not on PrEP. They were all tested for HIV at the start of the study and monthly thereafter.

The study found:

  • 2.5% (115) of those in the study acquired HIV during the 12 months.
  • 14% of those surveyed said they used crystal meth. Three-quarters of these men reported using the drug persistently.
  • The regular meth users accounted for a third of those who acquired HIV during the period of the study (41 out of the 115). In other words, persistent meth users were four times as likely to acquire HIV than those who didn’t use meth.

‘Methamphetamine exacerbates HIV risk via increasing sexual libido while simultaneously reducing inhibitions,’ say the authors. ‘Our findings highlight the need to address methamphetamine use and its associated risks among sexual and gender minorities, the likes of which may also serve to help end the HIV epidemic.’

Crystal meth, part of the amphetamine family, makes users feel very awake, alert, high and exhilarated. It will typically make you feel very sexually aroused. Other names for it include ‘ice’ and ‘Tina’.

As its effects can last for so long, you can forget to take HIV treatment or PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), if you take those medications. You can also go for long periods without eating or sleeping.

“Our findings suggest an urgent need to include assessment of methamphetamine use among… patients/clients given the alarming strong connection observed with HIV incidence,” say the authors.

They also say if people report using crystal meth, they should be advised about harm reduction programs. Dr. Christian Grov of the City University of New York led the study.

Read: What you need to know about the drugs gay men are using to chill out and have sex

Study backs up the need for more support

“The relationship between meth use and HIV risk is well documented,” said David Stuart, Chemsex support services manager with London sexual health clinic, 56 Dean Street.

“Our experience shows that consistent condom use is challenging, and in fact rare for people under the influence of the methamphetamine ‘high’, even when robustly engaged in chemsex support.”

Stuart said that meth-using men taking antiviral medications, and HIV-negative men on PrEP, stick better to their medicine regimes when provided with appropriate support. This can prevent HIV transmission.

“This new data from the US is very helpful in making the point that gay, bi and queer men who use methamphetamine deserve awareness of and easy access to PrEP and other HIV prevention medicines and strategies, as well as culturally tailored drug use support services.”

Gay Star News