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A second plague is well underway

An essay on isolation and desperation in the age of communication

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At the February 12 ChemSex Forum it was revealed by LA Department of Health Associate Medical Director for Prevention, Lello Tesema, that 25 percent of all Fentanyl related death involve Methamphetamine. On the panel was West Hollywood Council member John Duran, Alex Sanchez, Tom Pardoe, Melissa McCracken, Leilo Tesema, Jimmy Palmieri and Jason De Puy. About 100 community members attended. (Photo by Troy Masters)

It’s not news to anyone that some gay men like to chase drugs (chems) with sex, seeking the ultimate orgasm — an experience that in reality might only happen once.

Nothing will ever match the overwhelming dopamine rush of first time use, but don’t tell the chem-sex crowd that. They will spend the rest of their addiction (for some, the rest of their lives) hoping to repeat that first high.

Chem-sex is simply the old PnP or party and play, using drugs and having sex, most commonly crystal meth. Crystal Meth is a stimulant that has been used to self-treat ADHD and obesity. It can be snorted, smoked or “booty bumped” (a little mixed with liquid in a syringe and pushed into the rectum without a needle).  Or, for the “ultimate” and most harmful high, you can “slam” it (injecting the drug mixed with a liquid into the vein), usually without any self-regard. This, when sharing or using dirty needles, can lead to HIV, hepatitis, serious abscesses, infections and a host of other problems. Other drugs that are “usually” used in this scene can be GHB, cocaine, and even heroin, which is making a strong come back (said to be used  to calm users down after a night of sex and stimulants).

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.losangelesblade.com/content/files/2020/02/W01-COVER-200214.pdf”]

 

Contrary to urban legend, chem-sex has never left the gay scene.  It has been around for decades, but every once in a while there are articles that say the culture has declined.  Empirical evidence — recovery facility bed nights, emergency room visits, detox bed nights, and overdoses — have remained constant and high, however.  Providers that serve the City of West Hollywood report meth as the primary addiction, along with secondary and tertiary addictions, among their clients.

The new monster at the party, though, is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.  The user usually has no clue that it has been mixed in with their drugs and it can kill in moments. There is no standard safe dosage, as everyone is different.  If there is no biological intervention with something like Narcan, (an anti-opioid drug that stops overdoses sometimes within two minutes), an overdose can turn fatal quickly.  Now also available are fentanyl test strips. When the test strip is dipped into a small amount of the drug to be used, that has been mixed with water, the strip will indicate if there is a presence of fentanyl. 

Los Angeles LGBT Center Addiction Recovery specialist Mike Rizzo tests a Fentanyl test strip. (Photo courtesy Rizzo)

These strips are available for free from some of the City of West Hollywood’s recovery program providers. 

It is assumed that dealers are mixing fentanyl into their product, to either stretch their drugs further and make more money or to get their clients hooked more quickly, as fentanyl is extremely addictive.  The outcome is a rash of overdoses, with many of the victims never knowing there was fentanyl in their stuff.

Another unfortunate phenomenon is mixing chem-sex with undiagnosed pre-existing conditions, whether physical or mental.  An asymptomatic and undetected heart ailment can turn into a full fledged cardiac arrest wtih meth or fentanyl laced meth use. Mental illness, treated with proper medications or not treated at all can, after substance use, induce hallucinations leading self harm or injury to others.  

“I liked sex on TINA (crystal meth) and G (ghb), ‘cuz I could get fucked for 8 hours straight.  I liked it because I could take multiple huge cocks for long periods of time.  I liked it because I was totally detached from my spirit and I didn’t care what happened to me” says one recovered chem-sex player.  They now have more than a decade of recovery, through hard work and a 12 step program: “Now I unashamedly like the same, but, without chemicals, and I am present.”

Another recovering addict says, “Chem sex…it made doing WHATEVER I wanted to do ok. It made orgasms feel like a 20 on a 1-10 scale. It helped me to validate myself. The more sex I had, the more validated I felt. Sober sex was hard at first, but now it is seriously enjoyable and I am able to have multiple orgasms in a healthy way.”  They are celebrating more than 11 years clean and sober.

These are not uncommon stories. 

Chem-sexers claim they have sex for hours even days on end. But they begin to not have erections, even with the tightest of cock rings, and cannot reach an orgasm. They masturbate sometimes until their penis is bleeding, raw, cut or abraded into open wounds, rendering it unusable for long periods of time.  Sometimes the damage is permanent. It is an unintended consequence, but sadly a common profile for the chem-sex crowd.

In the slippery dark digital world of instant hookup sex apps, chem-sexers can match with potential partner in just a few minutes and even fewer clicks. They can score drugs, find each other for chem-sex or hustle for money or for exchange of sex for drugs.

Looking at any dating or hook-up app, there are countless mentions of “the clouds,” “get to the point,” “PnP,” and  “Tina” sprinkled throughout thousands of profiles. Those are some of the code words and camouflaged phrases used to seek out other chem-sexers at online dating sites and hook-up apps.

There have been a rash of “gay baiters” preying on gay men in search of drugs or partying on some apps. The end result is a straight guy or crowd waiting where the meeting is supposed to take place. They will rob, beat, harm or kill the chem-sexer, who may be already partying and unaware of what is actually happening.

Holidays that advertise love, togetherness, family and friends, are many times the cause of a relapse. Gay men are still socially ostracized and may be estranged from families, may be loners or just lonely.

Underlying depression or undiagnosed mental illness exacerbates the feeling of loneliness which can cause a return to the familiar chem-sex scene.

Relapses can sometimes be more harmful than first use. The brain, psyche and body may not be healed and rates of relapse among meth users exceeds 90 percent. Everyone is different, of course.

For those able to seek help, recovery services and programs are available.

Many insurance companies will cover 30/60/90 days of in patient treatment. But for those with no assets or insurance, there are free services. The system is not easy to navigate and beds are not always immediately available. There are 12 step meetings in almost every city and at multiple times during the day or week, easing the stress of waiting to check into an available facility.

For now, there is still no biological intervention for meth. Users of the drug – as well as professionals in the medical field – remain hopeful that biological intervention may be just around the corner. Let us all hope an intervention comes sooner rather than later.

It is said no one can help an addict get sober better than another addict. Sober crowds and groups exist nearly everywhere and gay enclaves like West Hollywood thrive because of them.

Call it the collective will-power of the tribe. It saved us before and it will save us again.

The second great plague on the gay community is most certainly well underway.

— Jimmy Palmieri is founder of The Tweakers Project and currently serves as a West Hollywood Human Services Commissioner.

— Joseph Fenity contributed to this article. 

Note: The City of West Hollywood works through its Social Services Division to provide services to community members through agencies that provide substance abuse, recovery, and other health and mental health services. For additional information, visit www.weho.org/wehocares.

 

>>>>>>>>RESOURCES<<<<<<<<<<

CRYSTAL METH ANONYMOUS
(855) 638-4373
www.crystalmeth.org

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
(323) 936-4343 or (800) 923-8722
www.lacoaa.org

AL ANON
(for relatives and friends of Alcoholics)
(818) 760-7122
www.alanonla.org

AIDS PROJECT LOS ANGELES
(213) 201-1600
www.apla.org
Addictive Behavior Specialist. Individual therapy, groups and community events for individuals with HIV

BEING ALIVE
(323) 874-4322
www.beingalivela.org
Provides substance abuse counseling for HIV positive community members

BREATHE LIFE HEALING CENTER
800-929-5904
www.breathelifehealingcenters.com
60-90 day substance abuse rehab in Laurel Canyon

CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
(323) 660-2450
www.chla.org
Substance abuse programs for youth 12-24 years old

CITYx1
www.cityx1.com
Youth group made up of youth leaders from the community. All activities alcohol/drug- and tobacco-free for youth ages 14-24

FRIENDS COMMUNITY CENTER
(323) 463-1601
www.friendsresearch.org
Provides HIV prevention and substance use treatment to MSM and trans women including one-on-on counseling, groups, street outreach and technology-based interventions (mHealth and eHealth)

LOS ANGELES LGBT CENTER
(323) 993-7448
www.lalgbtcenter.org/methrecovery
Provides Crystal Meth and addiction recovery services and programs

MCINTYRE HOUSE
(323) 662-0855
www.mcintyrehouse.org
A residential substance abuse recovery and sober living facility for men. No one turned away for lack of funds

SAFE REFUGE
(562) 987-5722
www.asaferefuge.org
Residential substance abuse/co-occurring mental health treatment, HIV/AIDS services, and recovery support services

TARZANA TREATMENT CENTER
(888)777-8565
www.tarzanatc.org
Comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center for adults and teens

THE TWEAKERS PROJECT
facebook.com/groups/thetweakersproject/
Resources and referrals for addiction and recovery. The Tweakers Project also distributes condoms and safer sex kits to individuals and groups in need, at no cost

TWIN TOWN TREATMENT CENTERS
(310) 623-1477
www.twintowntreatmentcenters.com
Outpatient alcohol and drug treatment. Government-funded services are available to young adults under the federal “Access to Recovery” program. Private pay options accept most insurance plans and/or flexible payment schedules

VAN NESS RECOVERY HOUSE
(323) 463-4266
www.vannessrecovery.org
Day Treatment, Residential, Sober Living and Aftercare drug and alcohol recovery services targeting LGBT men and women. 12-step meetings throughout the week (AA, OA, NA HIV+, SCA)

WEST HOLLYWOOD RECOVERY CENTER
(310) 360-4833
www.thewhrc.org
12-step group meetings

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California

Newsom signs bill making Vote-by-Mail permanent for registered voters

“The bill will permanently expand access & increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient”

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Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation on Monday to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections, including a bill to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot. 

In a move to increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters, the Governor signed AB 37 authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), permanently requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state.

The practice of sending vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter first began in California in 2020, and was extended through 2021, as a safety measure to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and resulted in record voter participation.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” said Newsom. “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election. I extend my thanks to Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Marc Berman for his leadership on this issue.”

“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” said California’s Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber. “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters. Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot.”

Newsom also signed SB 35 authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) making changes to the distance within which electioneering and specified political activities near a voting site are prohibited; AB 1367 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) increasing penalties for the egregious personal use of campaign funds to up to two times the amount of the unlawful expenditure; and SB 686 by Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa) requiring a limited liability company (LLC) that is engaged in campaign activity to provide additional information regarding the members and capital contributors to the LLC.

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Los Angeles

Black AIDS Institute appoints Toni Newman as interim CEO

As Toni Newman steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation

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Toni Newman (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – The Board of Directors of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) announced the appointment of Toni Newman as its Interim Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Kemal M. Atkins as Managing Director this past week.

Newman is currently the Interim Executive Director at LYRIC – a non-profit in San Francisco, California that focuses on advancing the community and creating social change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth through education, career training and health advocacy. 

Dr. Atkins has been engaged to help further build infrastructure and management processes at BAI. Dr. Atkins, who will serve as a consultant on a temporary basis, has an extensive background in higher education and non-profit leadership where his expertise in crisis management, such as leading institutional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and expertise in building national wellness health models will provide much-needed program direction for BAI.

Founded in 1999, the mission of BAI is to stop the AIDS epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals to confront HIV. In its mission statement, the organization states that “BAI envisions a world where all Black people are free and flourishing without HIV and AIDS, free of stigma and shame, where Black health and well-being are paramount. With a foundation in advocacy and policy work, BAI works towards improving the health and wellness of Black people through research, community efforts, and clinical work.

As she steps into her new role at BAI, she will be one of only a few Black Trans women to head a non-profit in the nation.

Ms. Newman is a distinguished Faculty Member at the Transgender Strategy Center in Los Angeles, where she advises non-profit organizations on engagement with transgender and nonconforming communities. In addition, she is the Chair of the Board of Directors for TransCanWork based in Los Angeles.

“Ms. Newman has a wealth of knowledge in non-profit management, budget and finance, and human resources and operations,” BAI stated in its statement. “We’re excited that she has agreed to serve as our Interim CEO as we continue implementing our transition plan to find a permanent, innovative executive staff leader.”

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California

Ohio added to ‘Restricted’ travel list for California state employees

“Blocking access to life-saving care is wrong. Period,” said Bonta. “When states discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans California must act.”

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Photo Credit: State of California Department of Justice

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Friday that — effective Sept. 30, 2021 — California will restrict state-funded travel to Ohio as a result of new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation recently enacted in the state.

Specifically, provisions of the new legislation, Ohio House Bill 110 (HB 110), will allow medical providers in the state to deny care to LGBTQ+ Americans, including Californians traveling in Ohio. The new restrictions on state-funded travel to Ohio announced today are required by California Assembly Bill 1887 (AB 1887), which passed in 2016.

“Blocking access to life-saving care is wrong. Period,” said Bonta. “Whether it’s denying a prescription for medication that prevents the spread of HIV, refusing to provide gender-affirming care, or undermining a woman’s right to choose, HB 110 unnecessarily puts the health of Americans at risk. Critically, the law runs afoul of Assembly Bill 1887. When states discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans, the California Department of Justice must act. That’s why — in line with the law — we’re adding Ohio to California’s state-funded travel restrictions list.”

Assemblymember Evan Low, the Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ issued a statement in support of Bonta’s action;

“Ohio’s decision to condone attacks on the health of its nearly 400,000 LGBTQ+ residents was widely opposed by the state’s medical community. It’s plain that this law only serves to discriminate,” said Low, “We will never put Californians at risk of falling victim to the same toxic standard by supporting the use of taxpayer dollars for travel in places where anti-LGBTQ discrimination is the law of the land.”

In a statement released Friday by his office, Bonta noted;

Despite increasing awareness of and respect for the inherent dignity of LGBTQ+ people, there has been a recent, dangerous wave of discriminatory new legislation signed into law in states across the country that directly works to roll back hard-won anti-discrimination protections. Many states pushing these new discriminatory laws are already on California’s travel restrictions list, which with the addition of Ohio will now grow to a total of 18 states. Ohio’s HB 110 is particularly troublesome in that it allows medical providers to deny important healthcare services to any patient over the entire course of the patient’s treatment.

The law is applicable to a wide range of important services, including nursing and physician services, counseling and social work, psychological and psychiatric services, surgery, and the provision of pharmaceuticals. The law further takes steps to protect any medical practitioner or healthcare institution from suffering any consequences — whether civil, criminal, or administrative — for declining to participate in or pay for critical healthcare. Although HB 110 does contain a provision that suggests medical practitioners should try to transfer a patient where appropriate, the law offers no real protection because the language is discretionary and does not require action to help the patient.

In enacting AB 1887, the California Legislature determined that California must take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. To that end, the law restricts state agencies, departments, boards, or commissions from authorizing state-funded travel to a state that — after June 26, 2015 — has enacted a law authorizing, or repealing existing protections against, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Each applicable California agency is responsible for consulting the AB 1887 list created by the California Department of Justice to comply with the travel and funding restrictions imposed by the law.

There is a ban against travel to 17 other states, including Texas which had attempted to sue California at the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a 7-2 decision, the high court rejected the case and declined to hear oral arguments.

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