Types of Substances Abused
Over the past several years, the concerns about the epidemic of HIV-related conditions have led to an increased number of studies of both gay and bisexual men and injection drug users. Although LGBT persons use and abuse alcohol and all types of drugs, certain drugs seem to be more popular in the LGBT community than in the majority community.
Woody and colleagues (1999) compared a convenience sample of MSM at high risk for HIV who participated in a vaccine preparedness study with a nationally representative sample of men from the 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). The study found that these MSM were 21 times more likely to use nitrite inhalants. They were also much more likely (four to seven times) to use hallucinogens, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers than the men in the NHSDA sample. The study also found that weekly use by this MSM sample was 2 times more likely for marijuana, cocaine, and stimulants and 33 times more likely for inhalant nitrites.
A study by Cochran and Mays (2000) found that people with same-sex partners were more likely to use substances than were people with opposite-sex partners. Closer examination of the data (Cochran et al., in press) comparing MSM with heterosexual men and comparing lesbians with heterosexual women showed little difference between MSM and heterosexual male substance abuse but showed that rates of alcohol use were much higher for lesbians than for heterosexual women. For example, lesbians used alcohol twice as often in the past month, were five times more likely to use alcohol every day, were more than twice as likely to get intoxicated, and were four times more likely to get intoxicated weekly than heterosexual women.
Another study of lesbians using self-reported data stated that rates of alcohol use in the lesbian population were higher than those in the general population, but not as high as rates in other studies, and that the most significant predictor of alcohol use was reliance on bars as a primary social setting (Heffernan, 1998) .
Designer Drug Use
Abuse of methamphetamine, also known as meth, speed, crystal, or crank, has increased dramatically in recent years (Drug Abuse Warning Network, 1998; Derlet & Heischober, 1990; Morgan et al., 1993; National Instituteon Drug Abuse, 1994; Gorman, Morgan & Lambert, 1995; CSAT, 1997b), particularlyamong gay men but also among male-tofemale (MTF) transgender individuals and,increasingly, among some groups of lesbians. What makes the current epidemic so disconcertingis its relationship to the HIV epidemic (Ostrow, 1996; Gorman et al., 1997).
Amphetamines and methamphetamine currently are the most popular synthetic stimulants in the United States, and abuse of them can lead to significant dependence and addiction. The drugs may be drunk, eaten, smoked, injected, or absorbed rectally. They have a half-life of approximately 24 hours.They work by releasing neurotransmitters, and users suffer the same addiction cycle and withdrawal reactions as those suffered by crack cocaine users. These substances increase the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and body temperature. They cause pupil dilationand produce alertness, a sense of euphoria, and increased energy. After prolonged use,users often experience severe depression
and sometimes paranoia. They may alsobecome belligerent and aggressive. Methamphetamine use appears to be integral to the sexual activities of a certain segment of gay men, especially in some urban communities. The so-called party drugs, such as MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) (also known as ecstasy or X-T-C),“Special K” or ketamine, and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate),are increasingly popular at dances and celebrations, such as circuit parties and raves.
MDMA is a synthetic drug with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. The effects are reminiscent of lysergic acid diethylamide-25 (LSD). Ketamine, a white crystalline powder that is soluble in water and alcohol, is a dissociative anesthetic, a synthetic drug that produces hallucinations, analgesia, and amnesia and can cause euphoria. Users can experience impaired thought processes, confusion, dizziness, impaired motor coordination, and slurred speech. Liquid X (GHB) possesses euphoric properties, and overdoses can cause electrolyte imbalances, decreased respiration, confusion, and
hypertension, as well as seizure-like activity and vomiting.
Party drugs can impair judgment and increase sexual risk taking. Research has shown a connection between use of nitrite and high-risk sexual behavior (Ostrow et al., 1993), and there is compelling evidence that HIV and hepatitis C infections are linked with methamphetamine use. Studies in several cities indicate that gay and bisexual men who used speed, alone or in combination with other drugs, appear to have much higher seroprevalence rates than either heterosexual injection drug users or gay and bisexual men who do not use these drugs (Harris et al., 1993; Diazet al., 1994; Gorman, 1996; CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], 1995; Hays, Kegeles & Coates, 1990; Waldorf & Murphy, 1990; Paul, Stall & Davis, 1993; Paul et al., 1994). This finding is particularly apparent for individuals who inject these drugs and who share needles or injecting equipment. Although most LGBT meth users probably snort, ingest, or smoke the drugs, a sizable number also report histories of injection drug use. Within the substance-abusing population in general, and the LGBT population in particular, injection
drug users represent an often hidden and stigmatized group. Public health efforts have targeted mostly heterosexual injection drug users of heroin. A number of injection drug users inject methamphetamine, and a number of these are LGBT individuals.
Information on the needle hygiene of methamphetamine users or LGBT injection drug users is lacking. Some HIV-positive individuals appear to be self-medicating for depression or specific HIV-related symptoms by using methamphetamine because it reduces lethargy, raises libido, and can be an antidepressant. Mixing these drugs can be dangerous, and some deaths have been documented from using party drugs while taking protease inhibitors.