Sex Workers Battle Chemsex with Winning Sober Strategies

According to Vice sex workers are putting themselves on the frontline in the battle against chemsex.

Chemsex is the practice of people using drugs during sex to amplify the intensity of the experience. More often than not, two of the key elements to chemsex, are crystal meth and GHB.

Chemsex has also been linked to increased STI and HIV transmission among gay men in particular. Incidences of unintentional overdoses, date rape, and death have often accompanied encounters where the victim is often drugged without their knowledge.

LA based “serial predator” Ed Buck has been allegedly accused of intentionally injecting meth into his victims. Micheal Rice the director of parTy boi, a documentary that explores the meth epidemic in the Black gay community, and which prominently features Gemmal Moore — who was found dead of a meth overdose in Buck’s apartment in 2017 — says Buck is a sadist.

Rice told Towleroad, “Many clients/victims of Buck reported the constant use of the N-word during their visit, removal of their own clothes to wear items Buck lays out for them [ white long johns] and lastly to financially reward his guest by having victims or himself shoot large amounts of meth into their bodies to see the amount their bodies could withstand before passing out or overdosing.”

Vice says that, “sober sex is one of the most literal manifestations of sex work as therapy, and one that’s particularly needed by LGBTQ communities.”

A new study from the University of Michigan underscores this point saying that gay and lesbian individuals are twice as likely to have substance abuse problems.

Addiction rates being higher among LGBT people can be for any of the number of reasons that anyone is; and Vice is quick to point out that straight people have plenty of drug fueled sex too — and addiction affects everyone — but it’s become a component for a deadly vortex for many that includes dating apps. In 2016 Mic reported “getting meth is as easy as logging into an app on your smartphone.”

One of the sex workers in the story explains that he helps retrain people to enjoy “sober sex” by keeping them in the moment. He says, “People often use alcohol or drugs to make the journey from meeting a stranger to having sex with them easier, so I show clients that sexual tension, awkwardness and anxiety are all normal factors. In fact, they’re factors that heighten the experience of intimacy with another person. It’s almost ironic that the cure to fear of sober sex is chemistry, really – it’s about stepping together into that awkwardness of being genuine with one another, and showing them that it’s a challenge they can win.”

And meth use is on the rise — amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In California, KHN said, the number of amphetamine-related overdose deaths rose by 127 percent from 456 in 2008 to 1,036 in 2013.

The resurgence in meth use has led to a rush to seek a treatment. Doctors say that, “unlike the opioid epidemic — for which medications exist to help combat addiction — medical providers have few such tools to help methamphetamine users survive and recover.”

And with the Drug Enforcement Administration reporting “that the price of meth is the lowest the agency has seen in years. And the meth on the streets is now more than 90 percent pure.”

The problem isn’t going anywhere soon.

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Meth’s Resurgence Spotlights Lack Of Meds To Combat The Addiction

In 2016, news reports warned the public of an opioid epidemic gripping the nation.

But Madeline Vaughn, then a lead clinical intake coordinator at the Houston-based addiction treatment organization Council on Recovery, sensed something different was going on with the patients she checked in from the street.

Their behavior, marked by twitchy suspicion, a poor memory and the feeling that someone was following them, signaled that the people coming through the center’s doors were increasingly hooked on a different drug: methamphetamine.
“When you’re in the boots on the ground,” Vaughn said, “what you see may surprise you, because it’s not in the headlines.”

In the time since, it’s become increasingly clear that, even as the opioid epidemic continues, the toll of methamphetamine use, also known as meth or crystal meth, is on the rise, too.

The rate of overdose deaths involving the stimulant more than tripled from 2011 to 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

But unlike the opioid epidemic — for which medications exist to help combat addiction — medical providers have few such tools to help methamphetamine users survive and recover. A drug such as naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, does not exist for meth. And there are no drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can treat a meth addiction.

“We’re realizing that we don’t have everything we might wish we had to address these different kinds of drugs,” said Dr. Margaret Jarvis, a psychiatrist and distinguished fellow for the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Meth revs up the human body, causing euphoria, elevated blood pressure and energy that enables users to go for days without sleeping or eating. In some cases, long-term use alters the user’s brain and causes psychotic symptoms that can take up to one year after the person has stopped using it to dissipate.

Overdosing can trigger heart attacks, strokes and seizures, which can make pinpointing the drug’s involvement difficult.

Meth users also tend to abuse other substances, which complicates first responders’ efforts to treat a patient in the event of an overdose, said Dr. David Persse, EMS physician director for Houston. With multiple drugs in a patient’s system, overdose symptoms may not neatly fit under the description for one substance.

“If we had five or six miracle drugs,” Persse said, to use immediately on the scene of the overdose, “it’s still gonna be difficult to know which one that patient needs.”
Research is underway to develop a medication that helps those with methamphetamine addiction overcome their condition. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network is testing a combination of naltrexone, a medication typically used to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders, and an antidepressant called bupropion.
And a team from the Universities of Kentucky and Arkansas created a molecule called lobeline that shows promise in blocking meth’s effects in the brain.

For now, though, existing treatments, such as the Matrix Model, a drug counseling technique, and contingency management, which offers patients incentives to stay away from drugs, are key options for what appears to be a meth resurgence, said Jarvis.

Illegal drugs never disappear from the street, she said. Their popularity waxes and wanes with demand. And as the demand for methamphetamine use increases, the gaps in treatment become more apparent.

Persse said he hasn’t seen a rise in the number of calls related to methamphetamine overdoses in his area. However, the death toll in Texas from meth now exceeds that of heroin.

Provisional death counts for 2017 showed methamphetamine claimed 813 lives in the Lone Star State. By comparison, 591 people died due to heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that the price of meth is the lowest the agency has seen in years. It is increasingly available in the eastern region of the United States. Primary suppliers are Mexican drug cartels. And the meth on the streets is now more than 90 percent pure.

“The new methods [of making methamphetamine] have really altered the potency,” said Jane Maxwell, research professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s social work school. “So, the meth we’re looking at today is much more potent than it was 10 years ago.”

For Vaughn, who works as an outpatient therapist and treatment coordinator, these variables are a regular part of her daily challenge. So until the research arms her with something new, her go-to strategy is to use the available tools to tackle her patients’ methamphetamine addiction in layers.

She starts with writing assignments, then coping skills until they are capable of unpacking their trauma. Addiction is rarely the sole demon patients wrestle with, Vaughn said.

“Substance use is often a symptom for what’s really going on with someone,” she said.

Written by Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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2019 Resolutions Every Gay Man Should Consider… It’s complicated.

2019, Gay Men, and their Resolutions

This years resolutions felt impossible. I’ve witnessed so much change for queers around the country, more than our forefathers dreamed of, yet many of us are deeply disenfranchised. As I approach 40, I continue to see too many friends process shame and trauma through addiction and suicide.

I’m now at the age many of my heroes died of AIDS, the roadmaps of their biographies have ended. How can we make it to our senior years together and what will await us once we’re there? We’ve pried open closet doors, changed the law and de-fanged a killer virus but are we using these victories as an excuse for isolation and narcissism? Perhaps this political reality show is the crisis of our generation.

How can gay men use our new powers to help other queers through this? Though in past years I’ve had moments of soaring inspiration, making resolutions for others is hard when all you have are questions. My single resolution for 2019 is to ask ourselves difficult questions that can center, focus and unite our community for the year ahead.

How are we confronting racist bullshit?

As a Mexican immigrant, this year was rough. I had to ask myself: what is more important to my identity, being gay or brown? Rich white gays gushing over this president in the NY Times, while brown queers were tear gassed at the border and children who looked like me slept in fucking cages. At a QPOC bar in San Francisco, a white woman and her white gay friend called the cops on a black drag queen because her performance was too “aggressive.” A queer white woman filed a police report on me over a private Facebook argument. Rough.

It was affirming that all across racial lines, gay men were properly outraged by these incidents, donating to immigrant causes, writing letters of support and speaking up to the cops. This year I watched my white friends exercise their privilege not just against the overt racism of this administration and BBQ Beckys, but the casual racism of their family, on apps and at brunch. I witnessed my QPOC family run for office, open businesses, create art that reminded everyone of our value, using education as a tool instead of just reprimanding others for their ignorance. In 2019,  let us continue to confront racist bullshit with our posts, votes and dollars.

2019 Gay Men are Anxious

How can we moderate our vices?

We all struggle with our bad habits in times of crisis, whether it’s booze, drugs, shopping, sex, food. Stress + tequila turn me into an emotional, loud-mouthed Mexican stereotype. After an eviction sent me into a tailspin of anxiety drinking, I quietly took a sober month to reassess my consumption and how it was affecting others.

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought and it broke the loop of anxiety-drinking-anxiety. I was more attentive to my friends and it was nice to remember all our conversations. Whether it’s getting too drunk, falling out on G, unhealthy sex, letting the search for coke rule your evenings, or even just being an asshole if you haven’t had coffee, taking a break from our vices can give us clarity in tough times. Sobriety isn’t for everyone, but harm-reduction should be.

Are we helping meth become the epidemic of another generation?

Meth has led to the oblivion of so many people I love. It’s not just an epidemic, it’s an underground culture that allows users to slide into a double life with such heartbreaking ease that very few are able to resist its gravitational pull. It dovetails so well with our desires and fears, that nothing we can say can change the mind of someone under its grasp.

What I do implore users is to be aware of how they’re exposing others to this drug. Many young people are introduced or enabled by older men or frequent users. Before you pass that pipe or syringe to our young or inexperienced, ask yourself, are you indoctrinating others, does your misery need company?

How do we keep our city’s queer residents?

Many historically queer cities are in housing shortages that bring out the worst. This year I suddenly lost my home in San Francisco. An older gay landlord had no boundaries over what he believed I owed him for cheap rent. Almost overnight, I was homeless in one of the most expensive cities in the world. After months, through the help (and couches) of many people, I found a spot. I’m one of the lucky ones, so many queers have fled, or live on our streets. When folks lament the golden era of a city, it’s  about proximity to one another, the ability for spontaneous gatherings. It’s not just about protecting spaces, but about passing down history and political power.

It’s hard, but our ethics can still shield queer neighborhoods against greed, for example by resisting the urge to overcharge a new queer roommate. Join or create Facebook groups for queer housing, and use these instead of AirBnB in places where queer and POC neighborhood are being gutted. Vote for progressive candidates and affordable housing measures.

We’ve pried open closet doors, changed the law and de-fanged a killer virus but are we using these victories as an excuse for isolation and narcissism?

 

How are we talking to trans folks about sex?

Among my biggest regrets of 2018 are times I didn’t take my trans family into better consideration. Gay men dominate so much of queer history and spaces that it doesn’t occur to us to ask, or more importantly, not ask certain questions. I reached out to my trans friends on what we could be doing better. Other than the obvious (holding safe space, marching, voting, etc), one of the biggest issues that came up is how we talk to trans folks about sex, especially on apps.

We can be so caught up with the fact we “meant” well, that we don’t realize we need emotional consent when touching on certain topics. I cringe when I think about how I’ve spoken to trans people in the past. Good intentions are not an excuse for “You’re so pretty, are you trans?” or “I’ve always wanted to have sex with a trans!” or the worst “What’s down there?”

Now that our trans family have the visibility they always deserved, of course we’re curious, but our curiosity is our responsibility. We need to educate ourselves, read books, watch films and porn with trans folks, learn to express attraction without fetishizing, support our friends discovering their own trans attractions, so that we can communicate with the respect and reverence our trans family deserves.

More 2019 Gay Men’s Resolutions

Do we think about our gay seniors?

This year I interviewed queer folks in their 70’s and 80’s for a film. They spoke about times not so long ago when holding a man’s hand could get you arrested for “crimes against humanity.” Your face would be in the paper, your stuff on the street because of moral clauses in apartment leases. They reminded me our new blue pill is holding back a tidal wave of death that washed away much of their support, that the politicians who neglected the plague still serve our government. They told me how they laughed during AIDS, and how they’d cruise at funerals. I was deeply moved by the weight of history they carried, all while some lived in poverty, sometimes forced to go back in the closet.

None of us would be here without our gay seniors and frankly, they’ve gotten the shaft. Their lack of a better support system is not proportionate to the sacrifices they made for us. How are we helping them lighten their burdens? For starters, we not only need to support LGBT Senior causes, we must foster intergenerational friendships. While it may seem there’s an ocean between our generations, we owe them not only immense gratitude, but a fucking hello. Next time you see a queer senior at a gay bar, ask them how their day was and you may stumble upon history that could change you.

Do our emotions have a weight to them?

I have a friend who comes over for dinner and each time he brings me a card. We’ll post about our dinner, share photos on our IG stories, he’ll send me a thank you text, but guess what I value the most? We live in times of weightless affection. It is not inherently bad that a birthday post has replaced a hug, or that an eggplant replaced the street cruise, but when we lift less, and less weight, our emotional muscles are not as strong. For those closest to you,  take the extra step to communicate joy, love or despair in more tactile ways. For strangers, ask yourself if you know how to react to their attraction without reaching for your phone to check their profile on an app.

What are we ashamed of?

Shame is behind most of the questions asked in this piece, always part of our story. The closet, AIDS, religion, abandonment, our bodies. We are such masters at reflecting self-loathing onto others, half the time we don’t even realize it’s there, at the root of our high statistics of mental health and addiction issues.  Ridding ourselves of it is a lifelong process. The anxiety it causes along the way can paralyze us completely but small steps can get us through. First step is asking yourself what are you ashamed of? The size of your body, dick, bank account, résumé ? How does this shame translate into depression or anxiety?

The best advice I’ve ever received was “Whenever you feel anxious, do something nice for someone.” I hope that this coming year, when we wake up with that worry for the state of our country or ourselves, we can pick up the phone and ask someone how they are and to listen without waiting to talk. I hope we get the strength for unexpected gestures of generosity for one another that have a weight and history to them. These times aren’t dark Mary, they’re just heavy. Lift yourself and one another up in 2019.


Previously on Towleroad:

2016 Resolutions All Gay Men Should Consider

2017 Resolutions All Gay Men Should Consider

2018 Resolutions All Gay Men Should Consider


Leo Herrera is a queer Mexican artist, activist and writer. His work focuses on queer history, sexuality and nightlife. His latest piece FATHERS Project is a sci-fi web series that imagines AIDS never happened. Now playing at www.iftheylived.org. You may also follow him on Instagram.

All opinions expressed are those of the author.

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