A recent study of British Columbia teens says gay, lesbian and bisexual students, especially girls, are 17 times more likely to use crystal methamphetamine and other club drugs.
The study, released in the February issue of the BC Medical Journal, is one of the first such research projects to include questions about sexual identity and about the use of specific drugs like ecstacy, ketamine, GHB and meth.
The study showed that few high school students had used any of the drugs. Of 607 students polled, only 81, or about 14 percent, reported previous use. Only five percent had ever used meth, and only five individual students had used meth during the previous month.
Thomas Lampinen, a clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at the University Of Bristish Columbia and one of the three researchers on the study, says the study shows queer kids are more likely to try club drugs.
“If you want to target substance abuse issues in kids, you target gay kids. The data says gay kids are at increased risk.”
Lampinen says the there was a lack of research around sexual identity and teen drug use, and other studies had not looked closely at club drugs.
“The literature linking sexual orientation and coming out to drug use, it’s really sparse. We’re certainly talking less than two dozen studies. And even less on club drug use among gay kids.”
The study, which Lampinen calls a “quick and dirty” pilot project, gave confidential questionnaires to 607 high school students in Vancouver and Victoria in 2003. Of those, 2.5 percent, or 15 students, identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual — most of them bisexual girls. Lampinen says those figures are mostly likely low, due to sexual uncertainty or a reluctance among teens to admit to not being straight.
“I don’t think any of us really believe there were only two [gay or bisexual] boys.”
The conclusion calls for further research into elevated risk of substance abuse among bisexual girls and women.
“It remains unclear whether these elevated risks reflect early contact with social networks with higher prevalence of substance use or predisposition to substance use owing to problems with early self-identification as gay or bi-sexual,” states the study.
The study suggests caution about a BC government strategy announced last September that will spend $3 million this year on an anti-meth public awareness campaign, including $1 million on school-based initiatives. Schools might not be the ideal venue, says the study, citing a 2004 western Canada summit on meth use.
“While some strategies can effectively reduce drug use among adolescents, it is well established that most school-based drug use prevention programs, including fear-based campaigns, are ineffective and poorly implemented,” reported the summit.
Lampinen says that his study agrees that targeting meth use alone may not be effective. He says of those students reporting meth use, every user but one also used at least alcohol and marijuana.
“There’s no such thing as just a crystal meth user. They’re using other drugs.”
Lampinen also says the study suggests that many teen meth users may have dropped out of high school.
“Our survey results show that less than one percent reported using crystal meth during the previous month. Schools don’t seem to be places where you encounter regular users of meth.”
But he says that the campaign in schools may serve to keep some students from starting to use meth.