The toxicology report has not come back to determine the exact cause of death for 26 year old Gemmel Moore, but the Los Angeles Coroner’s office originally ruled his death an “accidental” overdose from crystal meth. For Jeffrey King, founder and CEO of In The Meantime Men, that sounded an alarm too many people have ignored for too long about the epidemic of crystal meth in the LGBT African American community.
King, along with a slew of community partners, is holding an open Emergency Town Hall Meeting and Call to Action tonight, Tuesday night, from 7:00-9:00pm at The Carl Bean House, 2146 W. Adams Blvd. in LA.
The first part of the evening, King tells the Los Angeles Blade, will be devoted to “giving dignity to the life Gemmel Moore lived, to empower the life of this young man who shared the same kind of experience with many peers. We think it’s important to shed light on the complexity of addiction and crystal meth—where race meets sexual orientation meets addiction. With race comes racism. Why was he not working a full time job or in school? Why was he escorting? To make fast money? Because he had too many felonies that made it difficult to find a job? It’s a cycle. And he was surrounded by amazing people—we’re going to be delving into all that complicated stuff.”
But, King says, the meeting will also work to find solutions, highlight the important work mental health and social support agencies are doing together, and formulate a call to action. Kathy Watt, director of the Van Ness Recovery House will be there, for instance. But why is the Van Ness House the only facility (other than Tarzana) for LGBT addicts/alcoholics seeking help? Sober living facilities help keep you clean and sober, he says, they don’t get you out of the clutches of addiction. Perhaps a campaign targeting local elected officials can raise awareness of the state of emergency the silent meth epidemic has created in the Los Angeles County African American and Latino communities.
King is doing his part. Every Saturday from 11:30-12:30, there is a free 12 Step Recovery Meeting called “The West Adams Group” at the Carl Bean House at 2146 W. Adams Blvd.
He also features a breakdown of drugs and what they do on the In The Meantime Men website under the category “LARG (LA Addiction/Recovery Guide).” Here’s an excerpt under crystal meth: “Long-range damage: In the long term, meth use can cause irreversible harm: increased heart rate and blood pressure; damaged blood vessels in the brain that can cause strokes or an irregular heartbeat that can, in turn, cause cardiovascular collapse or death; and liver, kidney and lung damage. Users may suffer brain damage, including memory loss and an increasing inability to grasp abstract thoughts. Those who recover are usually subject to memory gaps and extreme mood swings.”
But crystal meth has its own brand of scariness. The Addictionblog notes that: “[M]eth users can take a lethal dose and not realize it right away. But in general, meth overdose is characterized by physiological deterioration, eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke. Further, meth should not be used by people with heart, thyroid disorders and diabetes, because these chronic conditions may lead to sudden death….Because of rapid onset, death proceeds suddenly and unexpectedly after a meth OD. Many fatalities usually manifest symptoms of coma, shock, inability to pass and secrete urine, and muscle twitching. Emergency department visits due to meth overdose have been up to 130,000 per year, out of which almost 15% were fatalities.”
Crystal meth was out of control in the Los Angeles County area in the early 2000s—so bad in Long Beach, for instance, that the Long Beach Press Telegram ran an important and shocking series called “The Meth Menace.” With PrEP not even on the horizon, the addiction, coupled with high risk sex, lead to the frightening conclusion about the possible spread of HIV. “Meth use, which has intensified over the past five years and replaced cocaine as the most popular illegal stimulant in Long Beach, and the nation, is widely abused among heterosexuals, too, but the high-risk sexual behavior it triggers among gay men has presented a new front in the war on AIDS,” the report said.
Then the epidemic seemed to subside. But not in the black community. “If you were paying attention, a few years back, about 2006 and 2007, you could already see a rising problem for black gay men on the horizon. No one talks about it, but it’s true. Even then the conversations, scattered and infrequent though they may have been, were just beginning to take shape: black gay men in New York City were talking about developing a crystal meth awareness campaign,” Charles Stephens, co-editor of the anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call, wrote in a 2015 essay called “Black gay men must face the crystal meth enemy in their midst.”
Stephens acknowledged it wasn’t an easy discussion. “For one thing, we are subjected to such pervasive scientific objectification by society that a consideration of our interior lives, is often unthinkable,” he wrote. “To talk about meth addiction and black gay men forces a conversation about our sexual practices and our sexual pleasures. It forces a conversation about how we seek intimacy and connection. It forces a conversation about how we struggle to cope with racism and homophobia and also struggle to transcend them. It forces a conversation about how black gay men have inherited the collective trauma faced by our ancestors and elders.”
More recently, filmmaker Christopher Rudolph produced a documentary ParTy Boi: Black Diamonds in Ice Castles about how there has been an uptick in crystal meth that is devastating queer communities of color. “In [’parTy & play’] community it has become a part of the norm,” Rice says in the trailer.
But the drug is not restricted to gay men. A new study from Chapman University “found that transgender teenagers are twice as likely as their cisgender peers to have substance abuse problems,” including crystal meth, according to a news report about the study, which published in the Journal of School Health. Researchers dove into results of the California Healthy Kids Survey (which 4778 transgender and 630,200 non-transgender students) in middle and high schools in nearly all school districts in California between 2013 and 2015. “Transgender teens were about 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine/methamphetamine in their lifetime, and more than twice as likely to report inhalant use as well as prescription pain medication use.”
“Transgender adolescents face tremendous social stress in families and schools, which often leads to behavioral health disparities,” Kris De Pedro, PhD, assistant professor at Chapman University and lead author on the study, said in a statement.
“California is a unique context for exploring substance use among transgender adolescents,” the study noted. “California is one of the most racially, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse states in the United States. More than half of California public middle and high school students are nonwhite.”