Meth and gay men: Tweaking, no thinking

One man’s story of his journey from HIV-positive drug addict on a downward spiral to HIV education advocate has a lesson for the whole gay community, especially youth

Leslie Robinson  General Gayety

“In my brief moments of clarity I knew my life was supposed to be better than this.”

Who said that? Who had mere seconds of clarity? Yogi Berra? Dan Quayle? Maxwell Smart?

If you guessed Lindsay Lohan, you’re getting warm.

The speaker was 26-year-old Jordan Duran, who in an interview with The Seattle Times described his addiction to crystal meth. He was part of a story about young gays contracting HIV through meth use.

As happy a topic as exploding oil rigs.

There is some happiness connected with Duran’s story: He’s alive. Not long ago you’d have gotten better odds on Mel Gibson joining the diplomatic corps.

Duran struggled in his hometown of Puyallup, about 35 miles south of Seattle. By the age of 5, he knew he was different from other boys. In high school he seized on religion. Duran even went to a therapist who “specialized” in reversing homosexuality.

During his senior year, he came out.

After graduation he headed for Seattle, moving in with an older man who apparently took his role as mentor very seriously, arranging official introductions for his protégé — to ecstasy, ketamine, GHB and then meth.

“From the first time I took meth I was hooked,” said Duran. “It was about escaping from who I was, and meth was the perfect drug to wash it all away.”

Chocolate does the same for me, but oddly, it doesn’t have that effect on everyone.

On his 21st birthday, Duran drank a boatload and then scored some meth. He had unprotected sex with a stranger.

A few weeks later it became clear what he’d gotten for his birthday: HIV. And many happy returns.

Joshua O’Neal, who does HIV testing research at a local hospital, told The Seattle Times that three-quarters of those who test HIV-positive at his clinic have used meth.

Said O’Neal, “When you feel invincible, you don’t care about using a condom.”

After he tested positive, Duran’s downward spiral got a move on. By 23, he was using meth 20 times each day.

Most people don’t do anything 20 times a day — except breathe.

He had unsafe sex. Staph infections and MRSA were frequent visitors. He contracted syphilis, which spread to his brain, causing disorientation. He was homeless.

Only Dante could do justice to this circle of hell.

Finally Duran saw a doctor, who happened to resemble his grandmother. She asked if he was using meth, and told him if he continued to use he’d be dead within six months from an overdose or the HIV.

Grandma took no prisoners. Thank goodness.

“Up until that point I was afraid of living, but suddenly I was afraid of dying,” said Duran.

He went directly from the doctor’s to an AA meeting, and began the arduous task of getting clean.

“Quitting the drugs wasn’t the hard part,” he said. “Feeling my emotions was the hard part.”

Duran has been victorious in the smackdown with his emotions — he’s been sober for well over two years. Soon after starting antiretroviral drugs, his viral load was undetectable.

He now works for Gay City Health Project, which focuses on gay men’s health. When someone on the skids comes in and tells him he doesn’t know what it’s like, Duran must struggle not to guffaw.

In Seattle’s King County, in the space of a year, about 10 percent of gay and bisexual men use crystal meth. For men under the age of 30, the figure is twice as high.

Combine that with the studies saying gay men who use meth are at scary-high risk for contracting HIV, and it all adds up to a real problem: tweaking twinks who can’t think.

E-mail Leslie Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

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