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Unspent HIV federal funds aid three efforts to target gay drug epidemic

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has awarded $100,000 to each of three community groups to fund each organization’s efforts aimed at curbing crystal meth-amphetamine use among gay men.

“We are very concerned about crystal meth as well as other substance use and the impact they have on both HIV prevention and AIDS treatment adherence,” said Dr. Marjorie J. Hill, an assistant commissioner in the department who heads the Bureau of HIV-AIDS. “We are enlisting groups that currently have crystal meth initiatives because we want to have materials out for Pride.”

The three groups—the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, and the Crystal Meth Working Group—are coordinating their efforts to guarantee a sustained anti-crystal campaign through the end of 2004.

“We think we should get some market penetration between the three organizati­ons,” said Dr. Barbara E. Warren, a research and planning director at the Center. “We are going to do some market penetration analysis so we can figure out if it worked.”

Representatives from the three groups said they would place ads in the subways, on phone kiosks, and in gay community publications. There will be an initial flood of ads from all three groups during June, Gay Pride month, which will include a billboard truck in the Pride parade on Fifth Avenue. Volunteers will march with the truck and hand out informational pamphlets about the drug.

“As long as they keep funding the Crystal Meth Working Group we are going to keep producing stuff that is in your face,” said Peter Staley, one of that group’s members. “We think there needs to be a component of confronting the gay community about what we are doing to ourselves with this drug.”

The $300,000 came from federal HIV prevention funds that went unspent in the 2003 fiscal year, Hill said at a May 22 City Council hearing on crystal. The money is a one-time expenditure and the department is seeking additional federal funds for an ongoing effort.

“That the department came up with this money in short order is very impressive,” said Jay Laudato, executive director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the fiscal sponsor for the working group.

The groups will do outreach to include African American and Latino gay and bisexual men. Meth is typically seen as a white, gay man’s drug, but data from as early as 2000 and statements from former users show that African American and Latino gay men also use crystal.

“We have some information that there are men who have sex with men of color who are using the drug,” Warren said. “I don’t want to wait until it becomes an epidemic. We want to do some prevention.”

The groups will work with Harlem United, the Hispanic AIDS Forum, and other organizations to reach these men, according to Lynn Schulman, a GMHC spokesperson. All the groups stressed the need for a continuing anti-meth campaign.

“The goal here is to keep plugging away and to keep the messages fresh and in your face,” said Staley who cited a one-time campaign in San Francisco that he said was a failure. “Crystal won there and crystal can still easily win here. I’m as pessimistic as anyone that anything we are doing or the city is doing can turn the tide against the epidemic, but we have to try.”

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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