Emory Report
December 3, 2007
Volume 60, Number 13

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December 3, 2007
Meth epidemic growing fast in Atlanta

Barrett Tyson is administrative manager for Emory's Office of Sponsored Programs.

Twenty-plus years ago we faced an epidemic which no one knew how to handle. That was AIDS/HIV. Today, we are facing a new epidemic with a drug that has been around for decades — methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is known on the street by many names: “speed,” “crank,” “crystal-meth” and “glass.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2004 an estimated 12 million people aged 12 and older had used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime, 1.4 million had used during the past year and 600,000 used during a one-month period. In 2000, treatment admissions for methamphetamine were 67,568 and in 2005 had significantly doubled to 152,368, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.

As a board member of the Atlanta Meth Task Force, I am joined by 11 other gay men who see this epidemic killing the members of the gay community. The AMTF is a state-recognized nonprofit organization that was started in 2004 by a diverse group of local recovering meth users, community service providers, researchers and other people concerned with the growing use of methamphetamine in Atlanta’s gay community. Our purpose is to educate others of the destruction that this drug can cause and to offer hope without judgment to individuals who are suffering from its use.

While AMTF is focused largely on the gay community, what I find very alarming is that this epidemic really has no boundaries in terms of race, gender or sexual orientation. It is becoming a tremendous challenge for all communities at an alarming rate, especially in Atlanta, where methamphetamine use far exceeds that of any city east of the Mississippi, including New York. Methamphetamine is fast becoming a critical public health issue for everyone, one that includes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, heterosexual adults and adolescents.

Why is methamphetamine so destructive? People who use meth have described the feeling as a sudden rush of pleasure lasting for several minutes that is followed by a euphoric high that lasts between six to 12 hours. After the drug’s effects wear off, most people experience a profound depression, which causes them to continue taking meth to avoid the “crash and burn” experience. Highly addictive, especially in the purer form that comes from Mexico and is commonly found in Atlanta, it leads to a cycle of extreme highs and lows, diseases, criminal conviction, the loss of jobs, family, friends and money — and in far too many cases — death.

Of greatest concern to me and to AMTF is that meth has many effects which make it a drug that is terribly and perfectly suited for the gay community and culture. It can increase energy, induce weight loss and enhance libido and endurance. In many ways it also provides a social network for people who feel like outsiders. The relationship with meth and men who have sex with men has been associated with unprotected sex, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections and increasing the spread of AIDS/HIV. Thus, whether it be due to the addiction to meth itself or its ability to fuel the fire of AIDS/HIV, the meth epidemic is becoming the biggest and most dangerous enemy in the gay community today.

On Nov. 13, the Emory LGBT office and the AMTF hosted the documentary “Rock Bottom.” We were joined by the producer, Jay Corcoran, from New York. Mr. Corcoran’s documentary focused on the lives of gay New Yorkers addicted to meth and suggests that the meth crisis is rooted in the stresses of gay culture. Mr. Corcoran, along with four members of the AMTF, held an open dialogue regarding this growing epidemic following the airing of the documentary. This is but one of the many ways that AMTF is trying to increase the awareness of the meth epidemic in Atlanta. While there are many others, it is clear that handling this crisis begins with frank communication and acknowledgment of the problem.

As this old drug has created dangerous new days in our community, let’s not forget what we as a society will face as the consequences of this meth epidemic. We will be forced to deal with the dramatic increase in health care costs, but more importantly we will be forced to face the lost of individual lives. It’s time to stop and take notice, Atlanta, and do all that we can to prevent the destruction this drug will leave in its wake in our city.