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Study: Meth Use Poses HIV Risk for Younger Gays

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 8, 2011
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A new study confirms that methamphetamine use by younger gay men increases their risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Researchers had determined with previous studies that older gays, bisexuals, and men who have sex with men (MSM) were at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if they used methamphetamines, also known as "meth," and commonly used in a form called "crystal meth."

Younger men were the focus of the new study, which was carried out by Northwestern University in Chicago, reported U.S. News & World Report in an Aug. 1 article.

The survey, which also included researchers from Johns Hopkins, looked at a sample of young men who have sex with men from eight U.S. cities. The ages of the men in the study ranged from 12 to 24 years.

"Compared to those who had not used hard drugs, the participants who said they used methamphetamine were more likely to have a history of sexually transmitted diseases (about 52 percent vs. 21 percent), two or more sex partners in the past 90 days (about 86 percent vs. 63 percent), sex with an injection drug user (51.5 percent vs. about 11 percent), and sex with someone infected with HIV (about 33 percent vs. 11 percent)," the U.S. News & World Report summarized.

Meth users also said that they were significantly less likely to use condoms during sex. Only about a third said they used condoms, whereas just over half of respondents who did not use hard substances said the same.

An Aug. 2 Medical News Today article on the study, which appears this month in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, reported on the study’s other findings.

About a third of the survey’s respondents who had used meth recently said that they had had sex with a person they knew to be HIV positive. Half said that they had had sex with a partner who used intravenous drugs, which is a risk factor for transmitting HIV if needles are shared.

Like many recreational drugs, meth can impair judgment and lead to poor decisions. It also increases sexual pleasure, making it a drug of choice not only for gays, but also for many heterosexuals.

"Add meth and you have a formula that leads to increased sexual risk in a group that already has higher prevalence of HIV," noted another Johns Hopkins researcher, Nancy Willard.

"Drug use is closely linked to risk-taking behaviors, including sexually risky behaviors, so any HIV prevention efforts must, by definition, include drug use prevention and treatment of those with known drug problems," said Johns Hopkins Children’s Center’s Jonathan Ellen.

"The researchers caution that any drug abuse, not just methamphetamine, can push up the rates of risky behavior," the Medical News Today article said, going on to note, "[P]articipants who reported having used other hard drugs such as cocaine, crack, heroin and ecstasy, were more likely than non-drug users to have sex with HIV-infected partners (24 vs. 11 percent) and more likely to have sex with injection drug users (20 percent vs. 10 percent)."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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