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Anti-meth campaign aimed at gay men

Times Staff Writer

California drug officials launched an $11-million barrage of billboards, bus wraps, cable TV ads and a website Thursday aimed at discouraging gay men from using methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant linked to risky sexual behavior and the spread of HIV.

The drug, commonly known as “crystal” or “tina,” has been a popular party drug in gay circles since the 1990s. A statewide survey, also released Thursday, found that crystal meth use was 11 times more common among gay men than in the California population overall.

Fifty-five percent of 549 gay and bisexual men surveyed said they had used the drug, compared with 5% of the general population.

Mike Rizzo, manager of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s crystal meth recovery services, praised the state’s campaign, especially the website videos of real people relaying the consequences of using crystal meth. Not only will they appeal to young people, he said, but they portrayed meth use in a way that “is real and relatable and not easily dismissed as being overly alarmist.”

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The site, www.menotmeth .org, allows users to add their own videos. It also provides links to places to get help.

The Gay & Lesbian Center, along with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, helped push the Legislature to pass the California Methamphetamine Initiative in 2006.

Data from the center’s HIV testing program found that nearly one in every three gay or bisexual men who tested positive in the testing program in 2004 used crystal meth -- a threefold increase over 2001.

In the state-sponsored survey, gay men were the only group to cite enhanced sexual arousal as part of the drug’s appeal.

“Not only can it increase the likelihood of having unprotected sex, but people are also having more sex with more partners and having sex for a longer period of time, increasing the likelihood of infection,” said Dr. Michelle Roland, chief of the AIDS office at the state Department of Public Health.

Women and heterosexual men who use meth are also at risk for sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis, she said.

For many women, the drug is seen not as a sexual aid but as “Mom’s little helper,” according to Renee Zito, director of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

“It helps you lose weight,” she said. “It gives you energy. If you are a working mother and juggling everything under the sun, it helps you cope -- initially.”

Yet methamphetamine is a factor in about 80% of child neglect and endangerment cases. For all users, the powerfully addictive drug “turns on you down the line,” Zito said.

“People get to the point that they need it so desperately that they’re willing to do anything to get the drug,” she said. Although the campaign is directed toward gay men, it applies to anyone who uses or is tempted to use meth, Zito said. The campaign “is about loss, really -- of family, friends, their looks, jobs, who they are. It essentially gets down to ‘I lost myself.’ ”

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mary.engel@latimes.com


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