Latino Meth Use Spotlighted

Latino Commission on AIDS urges more targeted prevention, treatment efforts

A report produced by the Latino Commission on AIDS called on the city and state to do more to confront crystal use among Latino gay and bisexual men.

“We think there has been a complete failure by the public health services, both the state and city, to reach the Latino community with crystal meth treatment services and with Spanish-language crystal meth prevention campaigns,” said Dennis deLeon, president of the AIDS service organization, at a July 7 press conference.

The 17-page report, in English and Spanish, told the story of Alberto, a meth user who struggled with the drug and has now stopped using. The report offered 12 recommendations to address crystal use among Latino gay and bisexual men including more funding for meth prevention and treatment for such meth users.

The report and a current anti-meth poster campaign that the organization has launched are funded by the city health department. While deLeon praised the city for paying for these services, he also said that they were insufficient.

“We want to thank the department of health for taking this first step in sponsoring this campaign and enabling us to do this report, but we’re saying that more needs to be done,” he said.

The report was compiled from four focus groups with the commission’s clients, “11 key informant interviews” and interviews with other service providers and addiction experts. DeLeon said the assumption has long been that Latinos do not use crystal, but the organization’s work showed that was not true.

“We discovered that there is, in fact, among the groups that we sampled, widespread crystal meth use among many sectors of the New York Latino LGBT community,” deLeon said. The report estimated that 75 percent of the organization’s clients had tried meth at least once.

“Many people that we interviewed said that they could use the drug and not get addicted,” deLeon said. “In fact, many people that we interviewed used crystal meth and said they’re not addicted so they saw no problem… We saw a tremendous problem because there were casual users that were not convinced that the drug was bad.”

Clients reported using the drug or wanted to use it because that would get them into the Chelsea gay scene.

“From our focus groups, it seems that for many immigrants it’s a rite of passage,” deLeon said. “It’s a way to become part of the New York City Chelsea gay community. Because drug use is so much a part of the culture, the feeling is that to become part of the New York gay community crystal meth is part of that.”

While white men remain the dominant crystal users among gay men in New York City and across the country, the group’s findings buffered others studies showing that Latino gay men are using the drug as well

A 2000 study from the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies (CHEST) on meth use among New York City gay and bisexual men recruited 48 men in just 48 days. The authors made a special effort to find men of color to participate in the study and seven men, or 14.6 percent, were Latino.

A later CHEST study investigated the club drug use of 450 gay and bisexual men, 293 of whom were meth users. There were 89 Latino men in the study and 56 of them had used “methamphetamine in the 4 months prior” to participating in the study. Latino gay and bisexual men accounted for 19 percent of the meth users in that study.

In a press statement, city health officials wrote “The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agrees that crystal methamphetamine use is a serious problem in many communities in New York City, including the Latino community, and that more must be done. LCOA is an essential community partner and DOHMH looks forward to continuing combined efforts to educate the Latino community about HIV/AIDS and the dangers of crystal meth as more information is gathered about this dangerous drug.”

Also at the press conference, City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, who represents parts of Lower Manhattan and is running for borough president, praised the City Council, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the health department for supporting a $1 million allocation in the current budget for meth treatment at three city hospitals and continuing meth prevention efforts. She criticized the state government for not doing more.

“What we are trying to do with the initiatives of the City Council is a comprehensive way in which to deal with this,” Lopez said. “Right now the state is dealing with this problem from one perspective and one perspective only, from the aspect of criminality… They have put a special task force to go after the people who are selling and the people who are producing.”

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