Meth? Only [fill in the blank] People Use That Drug

Monday, June 28, 2010

Last week, Seattle's weekly newspaper The Stranger reported on the launch of a new meth outreach program:

For 16 years, Seattle Counseling Service (SCS), an LGBT mental-health- and addiction-­counseling center, has focused its meth outreach on gay men. A month ago, the organization started something different: Women OUT, a weekly meth-abuse support group for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LBTQ) women.

This is a good thing. Rates of current (past-month) use of methamphetamine by women and men have been equal in recent years. Why the previous focus on gay men? According to a 2004 report published by the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and the National Coalition of STD Directors, evidence linked meth use to increased risky behavior like unprotected sex.

Well, yes, that shouldn't have surprised anyone. Other intoxicants - like, say, alcohol - increase swagger and impair judgment, too. And some folks enjoy using illicit substances not only for the sensations they deliver but also for the naughty thrill of being a lawbreaker. They may be more likely to take risks in other areas of their lives, too. Also, people who abuse intoxicants to the point of damaging their health may have a low sense of self-worth and lack the confidence required to insist on safer sex, every time.

The point is, everyone is at risk, and everyone deserves outreach, because Everyone Does Drugs. Before you, dear reader, take personal offense, I mean this in the sense that Anton Ego interpreted Auguste Gusteau's motto, "Anyone can cook." Drug users, and abusers, come from all walks of life. They are male, female, straight, lesbian, young, old, rich, poor, high school dropouts, college grads, black, brown, and white. Almost half of all Americans have used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. Almost a third have used a drug other than marijuana.

Let me say it again: Everyone Does Drugs. Why is it worth repeating? Because we need to stop pretending that drug use is such socially deviant behavior that no one respectable does it, we can't talk about it in polite company, and the people who get outed deserve to be treated like criminals. Maybe if we didn't foster such a culture of shame and silence around drug use, we could prevent more of the abuse. The fact is, not all use leads to abuse - in 2008, 35.5 million Americans had used drugs, compared with 7 million who had abused them. Maybe if we started treating drug use as a health concern rather than a crime, and drug abuse as a symptom of personal crisis rather than a moral failing, we could do a better job of bringing our drug problems under control. Anne Clark, a former meth user who now volunteers as a peer counselor with SCS's Women OUT program, explained it this way:

I know I thought that I was one of the only ones. Because I didn't congregate in big groups of women and sit around. I was a closet dweller, so I did it by myself. So I think we need to get the message out there, that there are other people, like us. Because we tend to isolate, and I know there are others who feel the same.

Thank you, Anne, for coming out of the closet.