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Why Meth Use Has Doubled Amongst NYC’s Gay/Bi Men

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AIDS and gay rights activist Peter Staley reported today that meth use among New York City’s gay and bi men has doubled over the last three years, something he attributes to a lack of direct-action efforts and awareness campaigns discouraging meth use. But is that really why?

No matter whether you call it meth, crystal or Hurricane Tina, you probably know someone who has used it. It sends an immense rush of dopamine into the brain — more than any other drug known to man — so it’s no wonder that it has proved so addictive since its introduction in the ’50s to America.

Gay and bi men are infamous for using meth; an alarming 2004 study found that urban gay men used meth five to ten times more often than any other user group. But while use declined in NYC, Los Angeles and San Francisco between 2004 and 2011, it’s back on the rise again in SF and NYC— and also up 20 to 40 percent amongst Black men who have sex with other men, according to one report — and the reason might also have to do with its increased purity.

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A chart from Peter Staley’s report on meth use amongst gay and bi men in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles

A 2011 PBS Frontline report found that rise and fall of meth addicts in jails, hospitals and rehab programs all coincided with the levels of purity in meth nationwide — that is, purer meth creates more addicts. So while a lack of public awareness and health campaigns could add to the rising numbers, purer meth could also be a culprit.

About 90 percent of the meth in America is coming from Mexican cartels who ship it through southern California. The cartels control ports that allow them to ship in ingredients from China and India which they then cook in heavily guarded “super factories” for international shipping. The ease of production all but guarantees a product with higher purity, capable of addicting more users than ever.

But while Staley’s report focuses on urban centers, we should also be clear that meth isn’t just a big city drug — it’s also being smoked by lots of white, working-class people in the South and the midwest. From 2004 to 2012, law enforcement officials counted 979 meth labs alone in Tulsa County, Oklahoma — more meth labs than in any other U.S. county; Jefferson, Missouri had the second most with 472.

(featured image via Thomas Hawk)