Comments Off on Examining the links between crystal Methamphetamine use and HIV transmissions

In Australia, drugs, sex and HIV have long had an intimate relationship. Public concern and political attention is currently focused on the harms of methamphetamine use, the potent stimulant better known as, ice, tina or crystal meth.

In Victoria, recent media coverage of an ‘ice epidemic’ has been alarming.

Public health experts have argued that it is misleading to suggest we are in the midst of a widespread “ice epidemic”, across communities. Fact-checkers out there will find that, in fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction.viewpoint-ice

Over the last ten years it actually seems that the number of people who are using crystal meth has been mostly stable. The kick, however, is that there has been a massive increase in the purity and potency of crystal meth. The desired effects that users seek out may be much stronger than before, but so are the risks and potential harms.

Multiple surveys of drug use support what many of us know from experience or might guess. Gay men and those living with HIV are more likely than many others in the population to use most illicit drugs. Crystal meth use follows such a pattern. HIV positive gay men are more likely again to have used crystal meth, with about one in four reporting use.

Whilst there can be a temptation by some to assume how and why crystal meth is used by gay men and those living with HIV, we must be careful in judging motivations and ‘taken-for-granted’ links. Like most human behavior, it’s not always simple to explain and deliver quick fixes.

For some parts of the wider community such drug use and activity is confronting and concerning. One question raised is whether the use of crystal meth can be held responsible as the cause of HIV transmissions. Certainly there is no doubt there is a strong relationship between HIV infections and the use of some illegal drugs and also legal drugs, like alcohol and Viagra.

The links between drugs and HIV are complex. The evidence is that many sexually adventurous men, including those who use crystal meth for sex, understand and anticipate health issues such as the risk of HIV transmission in condomless sex.

Focusing our concerns solely on crystal meth use misses key understandings of why and how pleasure seeking and risk taking happens.

Surely we can take a sex positive attitude and also build on the strong community history of providing relevant and realistic information, risk reduction strategies and supporting harm minimization? However, to get there we will need to have some frank and honest discussions.

The recent Victorian inquiry lends support for the key role community-based organizations have to act as trusted facilitators. Living Positive Victoria is well placed to lead such engagement and actions where we engage in drug use as a health issue, promoted through peer engagement and support.




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