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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 10, 2005

Ohio groups hope to head off a crystal meth epidemic

Columbus--Programs in two Ohio cities are examining crystal methamphetamine use in the LGBT community, hoping to proactively attack the problem before it reaches the epidemic levels it has achieved on the coasts.

On June 14, a public forum entitled �Crystal Meth Use and HIV Transmission in the LGBT Community,� hosted by a handful of community organizations, will be held at the Arena Grand Theater, 175 Nationwide Blvd. in Columbus.

�We don�t have any hard data� on meth use in the Columbus LGBT community, said Kellye Pinkleton, program director of Stonewall Columbus, on of the sponsoring organizations. �It�s one of those things where we can wait five years, or get in on the ground floor.�

Despite the lack of specific figures, Pinkleton noted, �Everyone I talk to talks about it being present in the community.�

Meanwhile, a survey will be passed out at Cleveland Pride to gauge the level of meth use in the LGBT community in Northeast Ohio.

�Bill Tiedemann at the [City of Cleveland Health Department] and I started talking about this a while back,� said Sue Doerfer, executive director of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center.

Doerfer said that, while any information she had on current levels of methamphetamine use in Cleveland is anecdotal, trends that are seen on the coasts eventually work their way towards the center of the country.

The survey, which will be administered through the City of Cleveland booth at Pride, added questions to make it more lesbian-inclusive, as well as to cover other drugs.

�We will decide from there what kinds of services are needed and figure out how we�re going to fund those services,� she noted.

Crystal meth, also known as �tina,� has been closely connected in large cities with unprotected sex and HIV transmission.

In February, a patient in New York City had gone from transmission to full-blown AIDS in the space of a few months, and did not respond well to the drugs currently used to fight the disease. Health department officials expressed concern about a �super-strain� of drug-resistant HIV, but the patient is now responding to therapy.

However, along the course of a month last year, he engaged in unprotected anal sex with dozens of partners while using crystal meth, which has been observed to lower inhibitions about safer sex.

It is that lowering of inhibitions that causes much of the concern about methamphetamine use, especially among gay men.

�We�d rather be proactive that wait until we have a really big problem on our hands,� said Pinkleton.

She continued, �I think hopefully we�ll find out more of what�s going on at the forum and then after.�

She noted that some people in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Columbus said that crystal was their drug of choice, but that neither organization provided knowledgeable support for users of the drug.

Pinkleton added that Stonewall Columbus is forming a support group for methamphetamine users, similar to Crystal Meth Anonymous chapters in other cities.

Called Tina�s Caf�, the first meeting will be held after Columbus Pride on June 25. The inaugural session will be at 9 pm at the Stonewall Columbus Community Center, 1160 North High Street, and will meet every Saturday night after that.

�Do we want to wait until something is of epidemic proportions?� she asked.




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