On Caledonia Road, in the heart of London’s Kings Cross, there is a small shopfront painted bright purple and a discreet sign that confirms that this is the home of London Friend.
This nondescript, unassuming premises is the frontline in an ongoing campaign to educate gay men in Britain’s capital about the risks that they’re taking and the harm that they’re doing to themselves.
I press the small buzzer to the left of the door and I’m soon ushered into a cluttered waiting room. There’s couches, chairs, a lot of community health posters and leaflets and a kitchen which doubles as a reception desk.
‘It’s all a bit voluntary sector!’ apologizes Monty Moncrieff, head of services for London Friend.
Moncrieff is a friendly, bear of a man. Warm and engaging, he’s the kind of person you feel you could talk to about anything. I’m intrigued by his piercings.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, London Friend is the UK’s oldest LGBT charity, offering a range of services that address the full range of needs that someone may need to call on at vulnerable points of their life – whether that’s coming out, gender identity, relationship support or drug and alcohol issues.
Having been one of the key health professionals that established Antidote – the UK’s only LGBT drug and alcohol service, Moncrieff is rightly chuffed that Antidote has recently been adopted by London Friend and it’s medium-term future assured with a £500,000 ($790 €606) Lottery grant.
Antidote – which aims to increase awareness, reduce harm and enable individuals to make informed choices in their lives – provides harm reduction advice, information and support for people who want to make a change to their drug and alcohol use, whether that’s to reduce use, gain greater control or stop altogether.
Moncrieff explains that people generally start to admit that they have a problem ‘when it starts to impact on aspects of their life such as relationships or work, or when it becomes clear that they have developed a physical dependence.’
As someone who has worked in the drug and alcohol field for many years, what’s concerning Moncrieff are some of the current trends in drug use and how these are specifically impacting gay men: ‘We are seeing massive changes in the way that men who have sex with men are using drugs and the problems that they are experiencing as a result.
‘What’s clear is that the drugs and the problems are community specific and we are not seeing these trends in the wider population. It’s particularly apparent in London that men who have sex with men are increasingly using drugs to enhance sex.’
The CODE sexual health clinic in the heart of London’s Soho is targeted specifically at gay men that are into the ‘harder’ sex scene. According to the clinic’s educational information, some gay men are using drugs during sex because they: ‘…dis-inhibit us. They can make us feel more confident, sexier, butcher, friendlier, more active or more passive, more like a porn star [and] can facilitate encounters that make our fantasies more likely.’
Commonly referred to as ‘chems’, the drugs that are being increasingly used in this sexualised context are Crystal Meth and GHB/GBL.
Crystal Meth (also known as ‘Tina’) is powerfully addictive. Generally injected or smoked, Crystal Meth is a form of methamphetamine and, by triggering a cascading release of dopamine in the brain, increases alertness, concentration, energy, and in high doses, can induce euphoria, enhance self-esteem and increase libido.
GHB (a naturally occurring substance) and GBL (a form of chemical solvent) are similar but different drugs, both generally referred to as ‘G’. Knowing which form you are taking though is important as GBL is more powerful as it is absorbed faster and requires a lower dose. Produced as a clear liquid and generally ingested by diluting in a drink, at low doses G has a euphoric effect and can increase sex drive, however when used excessively (or combined with alcohol), G acts like a sedative and quickly makes the user unconscious.
Research by Antidote and specialist service the Club Drug Clinic is finding that the way that some gay men are using G is leading to significant physical addiction and dependency.
According to Antidote’s Moncrieff, G started out as a party or club drug, used recreationally to create a euphoric high. The shift into highly sexualised environments such as sex parties, saunas and other sex-on-premises venues has become a noticeable trend over the last four years.
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