Crystal meth use among gay men in Sydney has increased significantly in the last two years and is replacing speed as a drug of choice, a major community survey has found.

Twenty percent of the 2,800 respondents to the 2004 Sydney Gay Community Periodic Survey said they used crystal meth, compared to just 12 percent of respondents who used it in 2002.

The survey, conducted last year at gay venues, events and clinics, also found speed use had declined. Experts say this is probably due to speed users moving on to crystal.

At least some of the increase in crystal may be due to changes from speed use, said Dr Garrett Prestage, senior research associate at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research and one of the authors of the Periodic Survey report.

Dr Louisa Degenhardt, senior lecturer at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and researcher on the 2004 Party Drugs Initiative (PDI) survey, said there’s definitely been a switch from use of speed to the use of crystal.

The use of crystal meth has increased quite dramatically and it’s increased in terms of being the form of methamphetamine that methamphetamine users use, Degenhardt said.

The PDI, which surveyed regular drug users nationally, recorded higher crystal use among gay and lesbian respondents than among straight participants.

The poll also found the increase was the same among gay and bisexual men as it was among lesbian or bisexual women.

ACON is this week running a community forum for lesbians who use crystal in a bid to learn more about the issue.

It’s often quite difficult for women to speak up in a mixed venue, so it will give them an opportunity to be able to be more vocal and to talk about their issues, ACON chief executive Stevie Clayton said.

Clayton said ACON was implementing various strategies relating to crystal use, which has been anecdotally linked to unsafe sex practices among men.

The Periodic Survey found one-fifth of the male respondents had engaged in unprotected anal intercourse with a casual partner at least once, but only a small proportion of them said they often or always had unsafe casual sex.

The survey also found a tendency for so-called strategic positioning among men who have unsafe sex, which involves the HIV-negative partner taking an insertive-only role and the HIV-positive man being receptive only.

Dr Garrett Prestage said this strategy was still very risky.

Whether such strategies work at all may be an open question, but they clearly carry more risk than using a condom, and there are certainly cases where men who were the insertive partners have nonetheless been infected, he said.

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