Methamphetamine users are engaging in risky sexual behaviour but are seeking frequent HIV testing, a new study has found.
Researchers for the study of same-sex attracted meth users by ACON and the National Drug and Alcohol Centre (NDARC) interviewed 90 men and 26 women who used meth at least weekly in the past three months. It found participants used the drug, also known as ice, on average three times a week.
While the average age of participants was 38, they reported first taking an drug intravenously at an average age of 22, suggesting many were injectors prior to methamphetamine use. About 14 percent are currently on methadone.
Many who were dependent on methamphetamine were also dependent on other drugs, while two thirds screened positively for a mental illness.
58 percent of respondents were unemployed and 21 percent had experienced homelessness in the last year.
A third had shared a tourniquet, and one tenth had shared a needle in the last month, with injectors using unsafe spaces like public toilets, cars and parks to inject.
Half the men reported group sex in the past six months, with 77 percent using drugs or alcohol, “specifically for sex”. 47 percent nominated meth as their sex drug of choice.
With casual partners, 39 percent always used condoms in the past six months during drug free sex whereas 34 percent always used a condom during sex under the influence.
With regular partners 37 percent always used condoms when not on drugs while only 23 percent always used a condom while on drugs.
On Monday other media reported the wrong statistics due to an error in the report’s Executive Summary, which would have been apparent had the whole report been read.
41 percent had sought treatment for methamphetamine use and 15 percent were currently in treatment.
Of those who hadn’t sought treatment, 63 percent felt they did not need to, 27 percent were not ready to stop using and 10 percent said they did not know what treatment existed.
However ACON’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Manager, Angela Matheson, said the silver lining was that 73 percent of people in the study group had gotten tested for HIV in the last year, while 97 percent of men and 88 percent of women reported knowing their HIV status – although women in the study showed higher levels of disadvantage.
“Among the women we found their health was quite a lot poorer than the guys in the study, so they were more likely to have a serious mental health diagnosis, they had earlier commencement of injecting, they had lower levels of understanding about how Hepatitis C is transmitted and also slightly lower levels of testing,” Matheson told the Star Observer.
“It’s something we’d like to look a bit more closely at as historically ACON and other services have struggled to fund this kind of work with women, but clearly there are some risks there.”