By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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"I think the biggest reason we don't bust the gay community," says Detective Matt Shay, who works with Sherrard in Phoenix PD's Drug Enforcement Bureau, "is that the gay community pretty much keeps it to themselves."
And, in the gay community, meth is such a touchy subject, according to Steve Schimmel, an advertising manager for Echo magazine, Phoenix's most-circulated gay publication. Earlier this year, Echo ran a tongue-in-cheek anti-meth ad in consecutive issues, paid for by an AIDS-advocacy Web site based in New York.
The ad said:
"Buy crystal, get HIV for free."
"I'm sure we offended plenty of people," Schimmel says. "But you know what? I don't care. This is a huge problem. We need to get in people's faces."
A similar tactic worked in San Francisco, according to Jason Riggs, spokesman for the Stop AIDS Project there. The organization, in conjunction with a citywide effort modeled after other public health campaigns in Chicago, Boston and New York, began a series of similar efforts that included anti-meth posters and meth-and-HIV seminars after a Stop AIDS study in 2004 showed that 18 percent of San Francisco's gay and bisexual population were current meth users.
Just a year later, in the midst of the Stop AIDS "Crystal Clear" poster campaign, a survey of 4,200 gay and bisexual men showed that the number of those using meth had decreased to 10 percent.
Riggs says that his organization has been pre-emptively targeting gay men who are at the "highest risk" of using meth, before they actually do.
"We can't worry about the men who are already addicted to meth," Riggs says. "We have to let the treatment and recovery programs deal with them."
Bruce Porter, the state's HIV coordinator, says that, despite the agency's failure to address the dire public health concerns that arise from the combination of unprotected sex and meth use, it's only a matter of time before public funds are devoted to some type of educational awareness campaign.
But until that happens, Scott says meth will continue to ravage the gay community.
"Meth has set us back 10 to 20 years," he says. "We want gay marriage? We have no idea what commitment is."
Theresa's content, she says, even though she knows it's unlikely she'll ever be able to have children because of the dozen abortions she had as a meth addict.
"I'm getting older anyway," she says. "I think it's too late for me even if I could get pregnant."
Feldman, the counselor for Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, says he sees women like Theresa with increased frequency.
"We had a young lady come in about six months ago who had already had three kids taken into foster care," Feldman says. "She came in and had the procedure started. We put the cervical dilators into her cervix [a procedure required for pregnancies past the first trimester] and asked her to come back the next day.
"Well, she had been smoking all morning when she came back. We tried to manage her, to keep her in the clinic long enough for her vital signs to return to normal for surgery. But when we tried to get her undressed for the doctor, she refused. Her brain wasn't working right because she was all meth'ed up. So we convinced her that the dilators had to come out. She called me about two weeks later and asked if we would still see her, and I said no. That's a very rare occurrence, but given her drug history, we didn't figure the risk to ourselves was appropriate."
It's a risk that's not going away. Far from it.
"About four years ago, we would have gone a month without seeing a meth user come to us for an abortion," Feldman says. "Now, we're lucky if we go a week."
Randy, the ex-tweaker now in recovery and working as a process server, hasn't had sex since he got clean two and a half years ago. He's had opportunities, he says, although he hasn't really been dating. Instead, he's focused on playing it straight as a process server, going to his 12-step meetings and getting closer to God.
"It hasn't been as difficult as you might think," he says. "I'm really working hard on my program. I'm trying to learn how to be friends with women.
"And besides, I've still got my hand!"
Sex has a way of kick-starting a meth relapse, according to Carol Ross, a licensed counselor who works with alcohol and drug addicts and specializes in sex addiction and trauma at Sierra Tucson, a high-end treatment center in the Sonoran Desert just north of Tucson.
"All those addictions need to be treated," says Ross, who's been at Sierra Tucson for 17 years, "because what tends to happen is that the patient will relapse because of other issues. They tend not to be able to disassociate the sex from methamphetamine use."
Ralph Earle, a sex-addiction expert who runs Psychological Counseling Services in Scottsdale, agrees.
"Patients will say that the only time they act out on their sex addiction is when it's in combination with crystal meth. The two of them go together. When they're sober, they're much more careful than when they use meth and cross that line into inappropriate sexual behavior.