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New campaign aims crystal meth warnings at area gay community

New campaign aims crystal meth warnings at area gay community

An aggressive new campaign seeks to educate Capital Region residents — and gays, lesbians, bisexuals

An aggressive new campaign seeks to educate Capital Region residents — and gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, in particular — about the dangers of crystal meth.

A new website, www.crystalfree.org, provides information on crystal meth and where to seek treatment for an addiction. Billboards on the campaign were displayed for over a month in Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Montgomery and Saratoga counties, and another round is scheduled to go up in late July. Advertisements have also run in local newspapers, and a brochure on the risks of crystal meth has been created.

The campaign, called Crystal Free, is being coordinated by the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council in Albany and In Our Own Voices, an Albany-based group that promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people of color. The Web site, members of both groups said, allows the campaign to reach people who live in more rural areas. “One of the things about crystal meth is that it’s underground,” said Nora Yates, the executive director of the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council. “We’re trying to raise the idea that there is a crystal meth problem.”

“The message,” Yates said, “is that people can be crystal free.”

Crystal meth, or methamphetamine, is a highly addictive stimulant that is also known as crank, speed and ice. It is made by combining the chemical pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines such as Sudafed, and household chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia and lantern fuel.

The prevention campaign is funded through a grant from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. In 2005-2006, the state budgeted $300,000 for cystal meth prevention; last year it budgeted $800,000.

“Meth is not as prevalent in New York state as heroin or crack,” said Dianne Henk, a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “But it is a very dangerous drug, and it’s very difficult to control.” Crystal meth is often made in dangerous “meth labs” in houses, trailers, barns and motel rooms; these labs can be volatile and toxic, and present a public health hazard that makes reducing the demand for meth all the more important, she said.

“It’s very important for the public to understand the risks associated with meth use,” Henk said.

Gay and lesbian community agencies are closely connected to the communities they serve, which is why the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council and In Our Own Voices were selected to oversee the crystal meth prevention campaign, Yates said. At the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, meth prevention is already integrated into programs and workshops on safe sex and substance abuse, she said.

The Crystal Free website describes crystal meth as “one of the leading drug addictions within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community,” and says that the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council and In Our Own Voices “have come together in an effort to keep our community crystal free.” The website contains a history of the drug, contact information for local recovery programs and tips on how to reduce the harmful effects of getting high on crystal meth, such as drinking water to avoid dehydration.

Crytal meth has penetrated all demographics, but “It has definitely permeated a young gay male demographic,” Yates said. “That’s one of the groups we’re targeting.” Young people of color, she said, are also using crystal meth at a higher rate than the population.

Jasan M. Ward, outreach specialist for In Our Own Voices, made similar observations. “Being a young, gay male myself, I’ve had friends who have been involved with crystal meth,” he said. “I know from friends and hearing things that meth is being used in the Capital Region.” In bigger cities, such as San Francisco and New York City, meth use in the LGBT community has reached epidemic proportions. “We’re hopeful that it won’t get as bad here,” he said.

People in rural and urban areas have used crystal meth, but people in rural areas may not have the same access to treatment services as people who live in cities, and they may not be as aware of the dangers of crystal meth, Yates said.

Younger people, Ward said, try meth “because they hear about what it can do, in terms of making you feel like you can do whatever you want.” One downside, he said, is that meth is physically destructive, and can cause weight loss and rashes, among other things. “When you use crystal meth, you’re more likely to have multiple partners and engage in unsafe sex,” Ward said.

In recent years, experts on AIDS have suggested there is a correlation between an uptick in HIV infections among young gay men and higher rates of crystal meth use. The drug causes people to lose their inhibitions, which makes them more likely to engage in unsafe sex and risky drug and alcohol use.

For more information on crystal meth, call 462-6238 or 432-4188.

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