May 8, 2003
An overflow audience of about 150 people turned out Wednesday night for a San Francisco City Hall forum on the city's growing crystal methamphetamine problem, which experts say is helping fuel rising HIV infection rates among gay and bisexual men. The hearing follows a city Health Department report that at one high-risk clinic, up to 30 percent of those with new HIV infections reported crystal meth use in the previous six months. State health officials also found that gay male Californians who use speed are twice as likely to be HIV-positive than gay nonusers, and men on speed are less likely to use condoms.
Experts warned that scarce health resources need to be put toward counseling and prevention because mental health problems underlie many people's decision to use speed.
Because state and municipal budget problems are forcing Health Department officials to make deep cuts, some were not optimistic that more resources will be forthcoming. "I fear our waiting lists [for treatment and counseling] are just going to get longer," said Michael Siever, director of the Stonewall Project, a speed recovery program for gay men at University of California-San Francisco. Steve Tierney, director of HIV prevention for the Department of Public Health, said "smarter use" of dwindling health care dollars would be needed.
City Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who called the hearing, said he would be asking business leaders to contribute money for treatment programs as well as seeking advice from younger gay men on solutions. One proposal was to create 24-hour sober centers where gay and bisexual men struggling with speed can drop in and socialize and get peer counseling. Dufty said Wednesday night was only the beginning of the discussion. "As a community, we have to define that crystal is not acceptable for this community," said Dufty.