Friday, May 8, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

Playing with (Super)-Words

It goes by Tina, Crizzy, or Tweak. No matter the name, crystal meth made the national headlines as the party drug of choice for gay and bisexual men. The party can start on a Thursday or Friday and continue throughout the weekend, and Monday is still not crystal-free. For methamphetamine users, "Suicide Tuesday comes at the end of a binge. Rest comes on Tuesday, but at a price," Duncan Osborne explains in the introduction to his new book, published by Carroll & Graf.

Stack of sun glasses. Photo by Alina Oswald.
Rainbow Reflections A Self-Portrait. Photo by Alina Oswald.
In Suicide Tuesday: Gay Men and the Crystal Meth Scare, the leading journalist, who has written widely about gay men and the crystal-meth connection to HIV/AIDS, goes behind the scenes of the so-called meth epidemic to uncover the truth behind the recent media frenzy surrounding crystal use and the HIV "super"-virus. Some of us may recall that HIV made the news in early 2005 when attention turned to one gay male patient who supposedly was infected by a "super" strain of the virus, resistant to virtually all antiretroviral medications and rapidly leading to the development of AIDS. The individual, the media was quick to point out, had been a meth user, which reportedly led to condomless sex with multiple partners and eventually HIV infection.

"I don't know that words like 'epidemic,' 'outbreak,' or 'problem' are right to use [when talking about meth]," Duncan Osborne comments during our phone interview. "It's very easy to say 'something is a problem.' It's much more complicated to describe who is affected by this problem, how they are affected by it, and then talk about what to do about it."

As the author explains in Suicide Tuesday, gay men who use methamphetamine represent a subset of all gay men, and within this particular subset there is another (smaller) group that appears to have a very serious problem with crystal use.

Facts speak for themselves-a 1997 study by Michael Gorman, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, identifies seven distinct subcultures of male methamphetamine users just in Seattle. In order to help these men, one needs to realize that one is dealing with different populations of men who may use the drug in various ways and for different reasons, in different places and times. Therefore, how one reaches out to these various groups may vary as well. "So, it becomes very complex all of a sudden," Osborne says.

He gives two broad reasons for the hysteria surrounding meth and its connection to HIV infection: the nation's media, which is increasingly interested in entertaining-rather than informing-readers and viewers; and politics, not so much in terms of the "super"-HIV coverage (a story that Osborne considers nonsense) but in terms of how methamphetamine relates to other topics.

"There are political reasons for presenting these issues in an inflammatory and scary way," he says. "It is a way of creating support for a particular response to those phenomena. I think that this White House has been very effective at manipulating people's feelings related to terrorism, [that] some members of Congress have been very manipulative and very dishonest about the threat that methamphetamine [use] poses to America. And they do it because there's money in it."

Osborne finds it most unfortunate seeing people in AIDS service organizations and the gay community talking about methamphetamine in the same way Newsweek, for example, does. "It's very unhelpful. [It just does] not move us forward. I think we're all smarter than that."

While his book exposes the destructive effects of meth and the high price users have to pay, Suicide Tuesday is yet another means for its author to encourage the gay community to stay away from the hysteria currently surrounding methamphetamine use and, instead, to talk about crystal in a thoughtful and careful way.

Duncan Osborne hopes that Suicide Tuesday readers will get the facts about methamphetamine use, HIV, and gay men, and begin to insist that AIDS groups and gay groups in their own communities respond to what's happening in gay men's lives in this culture of hysteria. "If that happens, that would be great."