Council Conducts Crystal Hearing

Federal official indicates that NYC investigations are underway

Testifying at a City Council hearing about crystal meth on April 22, a senior Drug Enforcement Administration official disclosed that the federal law enforcement agency is investigating a large number of New York City distributors of the drug.

“We are currently investigating at least ten separate organizations that are distributing methamphetamine within the five boroughs of New York City,” said Anthony P. Placido, special agent in charge of the agency’s New York field division.

Placido said that many of the investigations “share common characteristics” in that the distribution groups are moving “multiple kilogram loads” of meth into New York City from other parts of the country and they are importing other drugs as well.

“My office has obtained evidence and received intelligence which indicates that methamphetamine is becoming more widely available in New York’s club scene,” Placido said. “We are increasingly concerned that methamphetamine will join the ranks of ecstasy or MDMA, [GHB], and ketamine as widely abused party drugs.”

It did not become clear during Placido’s testimony if all or even some of these groups are selling meth in the gay community and an agency spokesperson declined to elaborate on Placido’s testimony.

Placido said that following the arrests of six men in “Operation Chelsea Connection,” a meth investigation that was disclosed on February 19, the DEA had learned more about the scope of crystal dealing in the gay community.

“I can tell you that our investigation revealed that the abuse of this drug in the gay community may be much more prevalent than we had previously imagined,” he said.

Activists who have been pressing the city and AIDS groups to do more about meth use in the gay community had a mixed reaction to Placido’s testimony.

“Since they seem to be going after the dealers and the suppliers that can only help our community trying to stop more and more of us from becoming addicted,” said Dan Carlson who, along with Bruce Kellerhouse, has organized a series of town meetings on gay men, crystal and HIV. “We do have a crisis with crystal meth in our community.”

Peter Staley, a longtime AIDS activist and former crystal user who paid for anti-crystal ads that were posted on phone booths in Chelsea earlier this year, said the efforts would be wasted.

“What effect is his shutting down these ten networks going to have? Absolutely nothing,” he said. “This drug can be manufactured in somebody’s kitchen. They cannot even cut off the supply of heroin, which starts in a poppy field in Afghanistan. How do they think they can cut off the supply of a drug that starts in a kitchen in upstate New York?”

Staley also said that the dealers he knew when he was using were gay and he opposed arresting them. While the DEA only pursues cases in which large amounts of drugs are being sold and it does not arrest users, the line between users and dealers is not always clear.

“Generally, gay men buy from gay dealers and those gay dealers are users,” Staley said. “I take [the DEA] at face value that they are after the networks and not the users. My concern is the lower rung of the networks because those are users.”

The April 22 joint hearing was held by the City Council’s two out lesbian members—Margarita Lopez, chair of the Council’s mental health committee, who represents the Lower East Side, and Christine Quinn, chair of the Council’s health committee, who represents Chelsea.

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