London: Rise of sexually transmitted infections on gay scene linked to crystal meth

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A report in the Lancet shows use of crystal methamphetamine is on the rise in London’s gay scene, with gay men at greater risk of catching sexually transmitted infections as a result.

A wide selection of drugs are popular in the London scene, including ecstasy in both pill and powdered MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) form, cocaine, ketamine, γ-butyrolactone (GBL), and speed.

Lancet authors Tony Kirby and Michelle Thornber-Dunwell report that the capital’s drug clinics “are massively oversubscribed and struggling to cope.”

The article states: “Now, more of London’s MSM [men who have sex with men] seem to be engaging in high-risk practices, including crystal meth use, putting them at risk of infection with HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and a range of other bloodborne and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).”

It goes on to say that the trend is concerning. In 2011, there was a record high 3,010 new HIV infections in MSM in the UK, of which 1,296 were in London.

At the 56 Dean Street Clinic in Soho, London, 511 new cases of HIV were diagnosed, with most (482) in MSM.

The article states: “Around one in six of all new cases of HIV in MSM in the UK were diagnosed in this one London clinic.”

David Stuart, of Antidote, the UK’s only LGBT targeted drug and alcohol service, said: “Users of crystal meth, GBL, and mephedrone represent 85% of the CODE Clinic’s consultations,” he added: “It’s a staggering and frightening increase…Lots of things are driving it, including the ease of finding the drugs themselves and the use of internet sites to find sex parties and drug dens where people can carry out this behaviour.”

Of the men using the charity’s services, 75% — who take crystal meth, GBL, or mephedrone — are HIV positive; and of these, 60% report not taking their antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) while high, meaning they become more infectious to their sexual partners.

Injection of crystal meth or mephedrone to get a bigger rush or high — known as ‘slamming’ — is also increasing in the capital at sex parties and at post-clubbing venues.

The report warns: “While most so-called slammers inject the drugs dissolved in water, some are withdrawing their blood with a needle, adding either crystal meth or mephedrone to that blood, and then re-injecting it into themselves or someone else. Users can then be high for days, reinjecting and having sex with multiple partners without protection.”

“The result is a perfect storm for transmission of both HIV and HCV [Hepatitis C], as a well a catalogue of ensuing mental health problems.”

The report concludes: “A slamming community, largely hidden to the rest of the gay scene, exists behind closed doors in London.”