Toronto’s largest AIDS organization is under pressure to take a position – any position – on the link between crystal methamphetamine use and the spread of HIV among gay men in North America, in the face of growing concerns by some healthcare workers elsewhere.
But with little funding earmarked for meth research, the AIDS Committee Of Toronto (ACT) says it’s just not ready to make a definitive statement.
“One of the challenges that we’ve been facing here at ACT is that we don’t have any dedicated money, as it currently exists, toward a meth campaign,” says John Maxwell, ACT’s director of communications and community education.
This lack of funding, Maxwell says, has prevented ACT from being able to take a good look at the research that already exists on a possible meth/HIV link, let alone being able to conduct research of its own. So Maxwell says ACT is not ready to mount a meth/HIV awareness campaign.
“I think they’ve dropped the ball on this,” says community activist Duncan MacLachlan. “We talk about studies, but the incidents are rising dramatically in the meantime. What are we going to do?”
MacLachlan says evidence from other cities and anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse.
“There needs to be strong messaging about crystal meth. ACT uses language not wanting to scare people… but crystal is very scary.”
Experts in New York, Chicago, Boston and Santa Fe, for example, have been more sweeping in their condemnation of crystal meth use, its addictive properties and its contribution to increased levels of HIV infection. But not everyone is hysterical. The website of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, considered to be cutting edge on HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, offers an FAQ on crystal, calmly stating, “Many people when high on crystal do not use condoms and may have sex with many different sex partners during a speed run.”
Even ACT’s recent party-drug study, which examined the sex and drug habits of 74 local gay partygoers, was inconclusive on the possible links between drug use and HIV contraction, especially when it comes to crystal meth.
“I think also a problem with [the party-drug study] was when the data was collected I don’t think meth was nearly as prevalent in Toronto’s gay community as perhaps it is now,” says Maxwell. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t capture a larger sample of guys who had used meth.”
ACT says it’s doing its best to rally support from government and other organizations. This week it’s putting together a crystal meth taskforce that will bring together workers from the Hassle Free Clinic and the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health. The taskforce will attempt to pool resources, compile information and come up with a game plan for a possible meth campaign.