Sydney’s gay community needs to hear honest talk about the risks surrounding crystal meth use to avoid the problems now facing US gay scenes, a leading San Francisco health official warned this week.

I think people need to get a real vision that this is not perhaps just another party drug, that this one has some pretty serious consequences, Steven Tierney told Sydney Star Observer.

The kind of message we need is: -˜You know what? I thought I could use this recreationally and only use it on weekends and only use it when I went to a circuit party, and the fact of the matter is it kicked my ass, and it kicked my lover’s ass and neither one of us have been able to get off it in two years.’

Tierney is the HIV prevention director for the San Francisco Department of Health, and oversaw the recent allocation of US$425,000 in funding to two agencies to assist gay men recovering from crystal meth and speed addictions. Tierney said that although there was little hard data on San Francisco, anecdotally, there’s a large segment of the community that uses crystal meth, and we’re beginning to see -¦ what it does, how fast it does it and how hard it is to get off it. The city had provided US$300,000 to fight the problem last year.

Tierney was careful to downplay the connection between crystal meth use and HIV infection, because one of the things is people are always looking for the newest cause of HIV, the nail to hang the HIV epidemic on -¦

Over the last 18 months in San Francisco everyone’s been saying -˜hmm, well, we think it’s crystal’. So you’ll see headlines that say -˜Crystal causes AIDS’ and I think it’s dangerous actually to say that. Because people who don’t use crystal think they’re not at risk, or they’re not at as much risk, he said.

Nevertheless, Tierney said the sexual behaviour associated with crystal meant users should be aware of the risks involved.

As health officials we would say to people that you know, if there’s a strong link between crystal use and rigorous multiple sex, if there’s a link between that and HIV infection, when you develop your risk paradigm for your own life, you want to include that.

Tierney said his experiences with people in recovery groups indicated that crystal meth has a much higher level of debilitation in terms of trying to get off it and stay off it and that more evidence was emerging of negative long-term neurological effects.

Sure you could die from crystal, and people do, and it’s not as rare as we’d like it to be. But in the meantime, for the vast majority of people, what it seems to do is cause people to make less good decisions about health and sexual risk and a bunch of other things -¦ Tierney said.

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