Infographic: Ending The Drug War Will Help End AIDS

From Jag Davies, Drug Policy Alliance in today’s Huffington Post:

Throughout the world, research has consistently shown that drug criminalization forces people who use drugs away from public health services and into hidden environments where HIV risks become significantly elevated. Mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders also plays a major role in spreading the pandemic, as inhumane conditions and lack of HIV prevention or treatment measures in prison lead to HIV outbreaks and AIDS cases behind bars – and among families and communities once those imprisoned are released.

Yet in countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being won. New HIV infections in countries such as Australia, Germany and Switzerland have been virtually eliminated among people who use drugs, just as mother-to-child HIV transmission has been eliminated in countries that make medicines for pregnant women accessible.

In the United States, however, the federal government has resisted evidence-based HIV prevention strategies — costing us hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Congress re-instated a longstanding ban last December that prohibits using federal funds for syringe access programs — a move that will cost thousands of more lives in years to come.

Money talks- just remind your politicians that the money they are not spending on “immorality” is costing the taxpayers 1000x the amount in the long run…

AIDS Activists Arrested At Rehberg’s Office

…for protesting the needle exchange ban “sneaked” into the Federal Funding Bill in December- despite scientific research which shows that it does not promote drug use, but does stem the progress of infectious disease.  From The Missoula Indy:

via wikipedia

A demonstration by AIDS activists Wednesday morning targeted Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana and other congressmen for their role in “sneaking in” a federal ban on clean needle exchange programs. Ten activists were arrested outside Rehberg’s office. Capitol Police put the total number of those arrested at 29; activist organizations say the number was actually 32.

The Huffington Post described the background of the demonstration:

“Rehberg was targeted for his role as chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, where he led the effort to ban funding for needle exchange programs, adding it to a House spending bill that funded the federal government through fiscal year 2012…

The ban was originally adopted in 1989 but was finally lifted by Congress in 2009. Republicans lawmakers quietly slipped the ban back into their spending bill in December of last year.”

In addition to Rehberg, activists targeted Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). There were also rallies in New York outside the offices of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The groups taking credit for the demonstrations were Housing WorksHealth Global Access Project and Citiwide Harm Reduction.

Activists are against the ban because studies show that clean needle programs help curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and reduce the rate of new HIV infections among injection drug users by as much as 80 percent. The Huffington Post article also notes that additional research shows “syringe exchange programs do not increase the numbers of injection drug users and can further reduce long-term healthcare costs for people with HIV or hepatitis C.”

Indy reporter Jessica Mayrer wrote a 2010 cover story about outreach workers across Montana working on HIV and hepatitis C prevention programs, and how drastic cuts to funding were affecting their efforts.

The false meme that is promoted is this: clean needles encourage drug use and do not prevent the spread of disease.
The truth is this: clean needles do not significantly increase drug use and do prevent the spread of disease.

The only logical conclusion is this: the lawmakers who promoted this ban want those who use needles to spread and to die of deadly disease.

They are not interested in public health, they are interested in shaming people with disease (addiction, Hep C, HIV). Completely and utterly irresponsible.


The death of Amy Winehouse has pulled a lot of press. But the reaction that touched me deeply was from someone unexpected- Russell Brand:

When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone.

His amazing essay (which should be required reading for anyone even remotely associated with the reality of addiction) is here.

At the very least, please read the last paragraph. It’s powerful.

“Can I blame gay culture for my drug addiction, please?”

That’s the question my friend Mark King asks in a provocative piece that I wanted to share with you all. It comes from his blog, My Fabulous Disease, which is linked on my blogroll. Excerpt:

After a lifetime of sporadic, recreational drug use, I became a full-blown crystal meth addict ten years ago, and then eventually got clean and sober in January of 2009. But why would I, or anyone as engaged in life as I was, morph into a drug addict?

It seemed an unlikely turn of events for a gay advocate and outspoken community leader living with HIV. Was my drug addiction some sort of post-traumatic stress from the AIDS horror show of the 1980’s?

Maybe it pre-dated AIDS, and resulted from the stress and shame of growing up gay. It’s easy to understand why anyone who came of age believing they were perverted (and going straight to hell) might need a stiff drink. Research indicates that gay men and lesbians are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs. Was I born this way, GaGa?

So I was immediately drawn to the new book, Gay Men and Substance Abuse: A Basic Guide for Addicts and Those Who Care for Them. I thought the book might bolster my hypothesis that I was a victim of gay culture and doomed from the start.

Does he answer the question? Read the rest here. I liked it a lot- it made me think.
How about you? Comments please….

Meth To The Madness

Edge New England has a great 2-part article on crystal meth and the gay community, highlighting work by Project Neon in Seattle and my friend Arnold Martin. I wish the author had spent more time talking about prevention, but on the whole, very informative.


Warning: pictures in the story may be triggers for former meth users.

They didn’t back-link the parts, so Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

The Holidays: Stress, Secrets and Statistics

“There’s always so much stress for me at this time of year – and everyone’s pushing drinks.”

This is a statement from a gay male therapy client who is also in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. He continued, “I don’t feel particularly strong right now, and it would be easy to just say ‘screw it’ and grab a drink off the tray.”  

He didn’t grab that first drink, mostly because of his strong commitment to his recovery program and the personal support he’d cultivated around staying sober. But his situation is a good reminder of something we may not pay enough attention to.

In general, the holidays are much more stressful than any other time of year. LGBT persons have their own particular set of stressors, and remembering some helpful tips can help make the holiday season easier.

But there’s one thing that we would do well to remember and be aware of:

LGBT persons are much more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than the general population.

Stay with me here.

Maybe it’s the stress of being different that makes us want to self-medicate to feel better. Could it be a way to drive away the suspicion of judgment we fear from those closest to us? Maybe it’s the constant struggle to secure rights, respect and dignity that make it so easy to reach for something to relax. Maybe it’s the higher amount of depression we have as a community. Maybe it’s the culture of bars that seem(ed) to be our only support- and the dogged pursuit of the LGBT dollar by alcohol and tobacco companies. Maybe it’s the simple feeling of comfort and relaxation that became a driving need. Maybe it’s the stress of keeping secrets.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Whatever the reason, the reality is this:

LGBT persons are 3-5 times more likely to abuse substances, less likely to abstain and more likely to continue heavy use later in life than the general population (NALGAP, 2002).

To be clear: this is not a consequence of sexual/personal identity, but of society’s response or reaction to it, often leaving us reaching for something to help cope with the confusion and pain. And because many of us cope in this way, often in the company of our peers – perspective is often a hard thing to come by.

And because, for many of us, carrying the dual secrets/shames of being a sexual minority and having a problem with substance abuse/addiction is so difficult and even scary, we find it hard to talk about – much less deal with.

To help facilitate some perspective and discussion, allow me to offer the following distinction between abuse and addiction:

Substance Abuse: Using a substance in an abusive manner, esp. in ways that may be (temporarily) harmful, impairing, or disabling. Not all people who abuse substances are addicts.

Substance Addiction: Compulsive use of a substance characterized by four elements:

  1. Loss of control- (non-rational compulsion) The user has no ability to deny the compulsion
  2. Continued use despite adverse consequences- the addict uses even though they know it causes problems
  3. Cravings- intense psychological preoccupation with getting and using the substance
  4. Denial- distortion of perception, unable to see the risks and consequences of use

Because a person doesn’t have to use drugs or drink alcohol every day to have a problem, it’s often difficult to recognize the signs of drug and alcohol addiction. This checklist of common alcohol and drug abuse symptoms can help you identify the signs of addiction, determine if yourself, a friend or loved one is having a problem with addiction, and if additional help is needed.

Please remember that even if a person shows any of the following signs and symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that they have a drug or alcohol addiction. The presence of some of these symptoms could relate to stress, depression or other problems that may or may not be related to substance abuse.

General signs and symptoms of addiction/consistent abuse:

  • Observable signs of deteriorating personal hygiene
  • Multiple physical symptoms and complaints
  • Accidents
  • Personality and behavioral changes
  • Many drug prescriptions for self and family
  • Frequent emotional crises
  • Behavior excused by family and friends
  • Activities involving drinking alcohol are a priority
  • Arguments/violent outbursts
  • Sexual problems
  • Extramarital affairs
  • Withdrawal from and fragmentation of family
  • Neglect of children
  • Abnormal, illegal, anti-social actions of children
  • Separation or divorce
  • Unexplained absences from home

Medical and Physical Signs:

  • Observable decline in physical health
  • Signs of weight change
  • Pupils either dilated or constricted; face flushed/bloated
  • Emergency-room treatments such as drug or alcohol overdose, unexplained injuries, symptoms of migraine headaches, auto accidents
  • Claims of having been “mugged” but without witnesses
  • Inability to focus and track in a conversation
  • Signs of shakiness, tremors of hands
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady gait
  • Constant runny nose
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

Observed by Friends and Community

  • Noticeable signs of becoming personally isolated
  • Embarrassing behavior
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a drug
  • Legal problems
  • Neglect of social commitments
  • Unpredictable behavior such as inappropriate spending

Workplace Signs

  • Signs of workaholic behavior
  • Disorganized schedule
  • Decreased workload or workload intolerance
  • Signs of poor work performance
  • Alcohol on breath with attempts to cover with mints or mouthwash
  • Frequent unexplained absences or prolonged breaks
  • Tardiness or leaving work early
  • Withdrawal from professional committees or organizations
  • Defensive if questioned or confronted
  • Poor judgment
  • Observed occurrences of drug or alcohol intoxication, drowsiness or hypersensitivity during work hours
  • Deadlines barely met or missed altogether
  • Frequent job changes or relocation
  • Avoiding supervisor or other co-workers

The good news: There is a lot of help for LGBT people who want it. Recovery programs, addiction centers, therapists, hospitals, churches and even workplaces can be sources of help and support. Online groups are even available for those who have difficulty talking face to face about their fears and possible problems.

But remember, the best way to have perspective is to be aware.

Be aware of your own habits and behaviors around substances. Be aware of the habits of your friends and social groups. Do we need to gather with alcohol in order to have fun? Do we insist others have a drink? Do we make it difficult for them to refuse? Are we sensitive to (or even aware of) those in recovery?

Be aware that you, your friends and (chosen) family may be more susceptible to addiction than you thought.

And, maybe, with that increased awareness, we can make the holidays – and our community – a whole lot healthier.