Connect with us

AIDS and HIV

Meth epidemic getting worse; researchers, community respond

Published

on

Ex-meth addict Joey Valladares shares testimony during Act Now Against Meth virtual roundtable on July 21, 2020

 It may have been painful for him to tell the truth, but Donald Trump finally acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic will probably “get worse before it gets better.”

The news is not surprising to elected and public officials in Los Angeles County where new cases of the coronavirus now average more than 21,000 daily. Deaths have passed 4,000, though there is still no data on how many are LGBTQ.

Some public health officials are looking through the intersectional lens of HIV/AIDS, STDs, mental health and substance abuse treatment and prevention, however. And on July 21, Richard Zaldivar, founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias, a non-profit LGBTQ Latino-focused community health and wellness organization, brought a number of those top professionals together for the Act Now Against Meth virtual roundtable.

Richard Zaldivar, founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias

The important data-heavy discussion addressing HIV and the crystal meth crisis among queer, gay and bisexual men — men who have sex with men (MSM) —in LA County is on The Wall Las Memorias Facebook page.

Zaldivar noted that more than a decade ago, the Office of AIDS reported that “out of every five cases of AIDS in Los Angeles County, three of the five cases were attributed to crystal meth use.” A workforce was created, “but the workforce didn’t do anything.”

In response, The Wall Las Memorias helped create the Act Now Against Meth Coalition, which later brought a 10,000-signature petition to the Board of Supervisors. That yielded in $1.6 million in new funding for treatment and prevention.

But meth became lethal with the introduction of fentanyl. Last year, meth caused more than 1,000 sudden deaths in LA County. Between 2008 and 2017, emergency hospital admissions for meth rose by 604% in California.

Meth made headlines after the 2017 accidental overdose of Black escort Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean in  2019 in white gay politico Ed Buck’s West Hollywood apartment.

LA County Public Health was poised to launch a new MethFreeLACounty.org campaign last March when COVID hit. The roundtable was intended to jumpstart a grassroots community-based response.

Cheryl Barrit, Executive Director of the LA County HIV Commission

Cheryl Barrit, Executive Director of the LA County HIV Commission, noted the disproportionate impact on Brown and black communities,” especially with the complicated intersections of Meth, HIV and COVID-19.

“We need to take charge of creating our own narrative moving forward on how to respond to this crisis,” she said.

Mario Perez, Director of the Division of HIV and STD Programs, immediately noted that “the gas pedal was sort of let go a little bit” on the response to meth. The community much reenergize around “the ongoing and quite frankly, worsening meth epidemic.”

In fact, he said, LA County is experiencing “a few epidemics. One is the HIV epidemic, the meth epidemic, and more and more, there’s a syphilis epidemic,” with the intersection of HIV and syphilis exacerbated by meth.

Added to that — a report in April showed that HIV positive meth users exposed to COVID “will have far worse COVID- related health outcomes,” Perez said. He presented data indicating that “those 2008 numbers that caused such an alarm are, in fact, worse,” concluding that “the impact of this drug is quite profound.”

Graphic from presentation by Dr. Steve Shoptaw, Director of UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services (CHIPTS)

Also participating in the roundtable were Anders Corey, health deputy for Board of Supervisors President Kathryn Barger, who remember that 10,000-signature petition; Dr. Gary Tsai, SAPC Interim Director and Medical Director, who talked about counterfeit methamphetamine, the increase in hospitalizations and deaths; longtime addiction researchers Dr. Steve Shoptaw, Director of UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services (CHIPTS) and Cathy J. Reback, Friends Research Institution/UCLA, who talked about harm reduction, evidence-based biomedical interventions and the importance of meth users to stop smoking.

Graphic from presentation by Dr. Gary Tsai, SAPC Interim Director and Medical Director

The roundtable also featured powerful testimonies from Eric Dixon, who talked about meth and homelessness, and a young drag queen/community organizer named Joey Valladares, an example of an LGBTQ person who was lost to meth and found sobriety.

Joey never expected to touch meth after rough family experiences. “I knew that it was something that I could never touch because of it. I didn’t like who my brother became,” Joey shared. “I saw how it tears people apart.”

Then Joey met a random stranger at age 20. “He pulled out a meth pipe and began to smoke next to me and offered me a hit. At that point I had tried math twice at parties by accident. I didn’t like how it made me feel, so I was like, I don’t understand the hype behind this. I don’t know why people do it,” Joey said. But “I accepted and I took a hit of his pipe. And in that second and me doing it, it changed me for the rest of my life. It became an immediate problem. It was something that I thought about from that moment on.”

Joey found free meth meeting people through Grindr. “I lost sight of all my dreams and everything that I wanted in my life. It all became clouded in meth,” Joey said, spurning friends and family, drastically losing weight, getting meth skin and mouth. “I couldn’t stop.”

Lost, paranoid, wandering downtown barefoot, turned away for having that meth look, Joey had an epiphany.

Drag queen/community organizer Joey Valladares

“I saw a really ugly side of humanity that day. And from that moment, I knew that if I kept smoking and if I kept getting high, I was going to really lose who I was as a person,” Joey said.

Family and friendly connections on Facebook enabled Joey to get help and build a support system.

Now, two years and eight months sober, Joey said: “Luckily, I’m really happy, but there are still so many people that aren’t — people that are still struggling. These conversations are so important and are really needed.”

For more on ACT NOW AGAINST METH, go to The Wall Las Memorias. Click here for the presentation by Dr. Steve Shoptaw and click here for the presentation by Dr. Gary Tsai. 

 

 

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

AIDS and HIV

$48 million earmarked for HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

“Community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations”

Published

on

The Hubert H. Humphrey Building, HHS headquarters Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. GSA)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million in allocations earmarked to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease.

Xavier Becerra, U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in a statement said that the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million in government spending allocations went to HRSA centers 71 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the previous administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, (HRSA) said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

Continue Reading

AIDS and HIV

Surviving Voices, “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS

The Surviving Voices storytelling initiative is being recognized for its powerful work in helping tell the story of AIDS

Published

on

Surviving Voices is a program of the National AIDS Memorial (Photo Credit: NAM)

SAN FRANCISCO – The National AIDS Memorial Surviving Voices storytelling initiative is being recognized for its powerful work in helping tell the story of AIDS through the voices of survivors of the pandemic, now in its 40th year.

More than 700,000 U.S. lives have been lost since the first cases of AIDS were first reported in 1981. Today, more than 1.2 million people are living with HIV, with a disproportionate impact in communities of color and in southern U.S. states.

The Memorial has officially released its most recent mini-documentary, “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” following exclusive screenings at two LGBTQ+ film festivals – Frameline45 and SF Queer Film Fest 2021.  The mini-documentary, along with deep dive personal interview segments with survivors and advocates, can be viewed on the Memorial’s website at www.aidsmemorial.org.

“The National AIDS Memorial is honored to have our Surviving Voices mini-documentary featured at these influential film festivals,” said Chief Executive John Cunningham. “It speaks to the important work our organization is doing to share these powerful personal stories of hope, resilience and the journey of survivors around the issue of HIV/AIDS and addiction in an authentic and powerful way.”

“Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” focuses the camera on the unique challenges of HIV/AIDS faced by this community. Through personal stories of survival, the film powerfully captures the journey of AIDS advocates and those of individual survivors living with HIV/AIDS who have struggled simultaneously with the disease of addiction, in raw, honest and forthright conversations.  It depicts their individual strength, power, hope and resilience, the importance of community, spirit, self-respect, and the will to live with dignity and pride.  It also shows their vulnerabilities, the shame, denial, stigma, and hopelessness they have experienced. 

As Queer Chaplain Bonnie Violet Quintana shares, “I can be as I am. Me getting HIV. Me being in recovery – all of that is a big part of Me.” 

The National AIDS Memorial’s Surviving Voices mini-documentaries are produced and directed by Jörg Fockele and funded through a grant by Chevron, a long-standing partner of the National AIDS Memorial. Community partners include the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, The Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, Stonewall Project and the Castro Country Club.

“We believe in the power of storytelling and the lessons it can teach current and future generations,” said Huma Abbasi, General Manager, Health & Medical at Chevron. “Our long-time support for Surviving Voices is part of our commitment to sharing the very human experiences that have shaped 40 years of the AIDS epidemic. At Chevron, our success is tied to the progress and prosperity of the communities where we operate. In line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, we believe that healthy, educated communities are critical to that success.”

Surviving Voices is a program of the National AIDS Memorial created to ensure the myriad stories and lessons of the epidemic are captured, curated, and retained for current and future generations.  “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” is the sixth film produced in this multi-year oral history initiative, which also includes “The Transgender Community & AIDS,” “The A&PI Community & AIDS,” “Women & AIDS,” “The National Hemophilia Community & AIDS,” and “The San Francisco Leather Community & AIDS.”

“I hope that these mini-documentaries will be as inspiring for current and future generations confronting their own challenges as they were for us when we filmed them,” said Fockele.

Learn more about the Surviving Voices, the National AIDS Memorial, its mission, programs and how to provide support at www.aidsmemorial.org.

Surviving Voices Mini-Documentary: Substance Users, Recovery Community and AIDS:

Continue Reading

AIDS and HIV

Governor Newsom signs HIV & Aging Act authored by Sen. John Laird

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

Published

on

Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California

SACRAMENTO – On Friday Governor Gavin Newsom announced the signing of Senate Bill 258, the HIV & Aging Act, authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz). Senate Bill 258 will ensure HIV+ seniors are included in the definition of “greatest social need”.

“When I was the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director in the 1980’s, it was our dream to have people living with HIV live into old age,” said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group was not supposed to age. Governor Newsom signing the HIV & Aging Act is a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, and all those who have been affected by the HIV crisis.”

With the recent advancements in HIV treatment, people with HIV can keep the virus suppressed and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the number of HIV positive older people is increasing. According to a 2018 California HIV Surveillance Report published by the California Department of Public Health, over half of the people living with the virus in California are now aged 50 years or older. This same report shows that 15 percent of newly diagnosed patients were age 50 and older in that same year.

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Sen. John Laird speaking at PRIDE with the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus June 2021 (Blade File Photo)

Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin notes, “After surviving the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, many Californians living with HIV are now over the age of 50, but in dire need of support. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird and HIV advocates, the Golden State will now make sure that our elders living with HIV have access to food assistance, job training, transportation or any other vital services. We applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the HIV & Aging Act into law, making California just the second state to ensure older Californians living with HIV don’t just continue to survive, but thrive.”

“Thanks to effective treatments, people with HIV are living longer than we could have ever imagined just a few decades ago and now a majority of people with HIV in California are over 50 years old. Unfortunately, our current health and social service systems are not yet prepared to address the unique needs of this population,” APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson said adding; “Many older people with HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. They have lost countless loved ones and entire networks of social support. They also continue to face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. We thank Senator Laird for his leadership on this historic bill to ensure that people aging with HIV have the resources and support they need to thrive and age with dignity.”

“We must ensure that LGBTQ seniors have the affirming care and support so they can age in peace with dignity,” stated Laird. “It’s incumbent upon us to not force individuals back into the closet for them to access adequate care. Once again, I’d like to applaud the Governor for his continued support of the LBGTQ community and to my colleagues for making this a priority bill.”

The HIV & Aging Act received unanimous bipartisan support through both chambers of the Legislature and is a legislative priority for the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Senate Bill 258 will go into effect January 1, 2022.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular