Perhaps it is as the old saying goes — no news is good news. It has been nine months since Capital Xtra looked at the occurrence of crystal meth in Ottawa’s gay community, and in that time, the explosion hasn’t happened yet.
Most service agencies in the city still don’t have concrete numbers on the use of crystal meth in the area. Drug-of-choice statistics with the city’s safe injection program (SITE) haven’t shown an appreciable increase in meth usage by the city’s injection drug-using population, but these figures also are reliant upon self-reporting and there is no way to tell if the crack that most users inject is also laced with meth. As well, there hasn’t been time enough to gather proper feedback from the Safer Inhalation Equipment Program, which would have a better chance of tracking meth users as more users prefer to smoke than inject the drug according to anecdotal evidence.
Similarly, the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative has had nothing significant come up since the literature review done last summer. Not that the GMWI isn’t concerned, and the issue is still on the radar in their partnership with the City Of Ottawa Public Health Unit. But so far no new numbers have presented themselves.
But the problem is out there, and it’s getting closer. Not just in Toronto and Montreal, where many Ottawa gay men go to party on the weekend, but in closer smaller centres as well.
The AIDS Committee Of Ottawa’s outreach worker Mike Hickey is no stranger to substance use in the sex scene in this city. After comparing notes with his colleagues in the area, Hickey says it looks like meth use is following a demographic curve.
“I have seen people over 25 using other drugs like crack, GHB, K, ecstasy and coke,” Hickey says. “Whereas I’ve been told by [colleagues] in Eastern Ontario that crystal seems to be more of the drug of choice among the under-25 set, and that is a group that I don’t necessarily come as close into contact with in commercial sex settings where I see and hear about the other drugs more openly.”
Cities like Kingston have worker-collected data from gay-identified users under 25, and anecdotal evidence is now coming from places like Peterborough.
But not Ottawa — yet. “I’m not seeing crystal the way that I’ve seen it when I’ve been to bathhouses in Montreal or Toronto,” Hickey says. “I have still seen as much crack in bathhouses in other cities as I have seen crystal. But I just haven’t seen crystal hit commercial sex culture in Ottawa, which I guess is a good thing.”
Crystal may already be present among some young gay men in Ottawa, but so far it’s not showing up in the data being collected. Paul Lavigne, the SITE coordinator, concurs with the feeling that the under-25 crowd may not be getting counted, as most of the SITE program users are older. But he’s starting to hear anecdotal evidence.