Brian Paddick, the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, have spoken out movingly about the dangers of the chemsex drug, GHB. Paddick’s ex-boyfriend, Michael, died of a GHB overdose at a chemsex party in 2013.
Speaking out publicly for the first time about Michael’s tragic death, Paddick is calling for a government-funded publicity programme to raise awareness about chemsex drugs. But what help is there to stop for people who get addicted to chemsex?
Chemsex is the practice of taking drugs, often GHB, mephedrone and/or methamphetamine, for the specific purpose of facilitating sexual activity between gay men. The term chemsex also refers to the parties, often hosted by dealers of chemsex drugs, where men meet up to take drugs and have sex.
Chemsex is distinct to sex that takes place after gay men have used recreational drugs coincidentally. Instead, chemsex is the intentional use of drugs to fuel, enhance or prolong sexual activity.
The drugs that are typically used for chemsex have a range of mood-altering effects, as well as significant risks to the user. They include:
GHB or GBL: GHB (gammahydroxybutrate) and GBL (gammabutyrolactone) have sedative and anaesthetic effects. They are used at chemsex parties to reduce sexual inhibitions and bring about euphoria and drowsiness. Accidental death is a risk because people can ‘go under’ when using the drug – experiencing fits, slipping into a coma or suffering respiratory arrest.
Accidental overdose is a serious risk because the drug comes in liquid or powder form; sometimes potency is very unclear and it’s easy to make errors or take risks with dosage.
It’s also easy to get addicted if people use GHB or GHL frequently. If physical addiction develops, then withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, shaking, sweating and insomnia.
In extreme cases, people need to dose every hour in order to prevent the onset of severe withdrawal symptoms. With GHB or GBL addiction, it’s strongly advised to seek medical support or addiction treatment, to manage detoxification safely and rehabilitate effectively.
Mephedrone (meph): mephedrone is a synthetic stimulant that brings about feelings of euphoria and causes a speedy sensation. Side effects can include hallucinations, insomnia, inflammation, heart palpitations and anxiety. It can be psychologically addictive. Many of the longer term effects of mephedrone are not known, however, as there isn’t much evidence available.
Methamphetamine (crystal meth): this drug is highly addictive and can be very potent. It releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Crystal meth can make people feel extremely high, charged, alert and sexually aroused with decreased sexual inhibitions.
Using and withdrawing from crystal meth is often extremely distressing, both physically and mentally – in some cases inducing heart problems, paranoia, aggression and even suicidal ideation.
Associated risks of chemsex: Apart from the risks of drug poisoning or fatal drug overdose, chemsex has also been connected in some cases to violence, rape and even murder of gay men. Chemsex also carries a risk of contracting STIs including HIV, due to the effect of reducing sexual inhibitions or safe practices.
There’s also a risk of transmitting blood-borne viruses including hepatitis and HIV through injecting drugs with shared needles. People have also been victims of theft at chemsex parties, where money and/or drugs have been stolen from them while they are under the influence of drugs.
For many people, gay and straight, hedonistic sex-fuelled with drugs starts off as experimentation. It’s about fun, thrill seeking and pleasure. It’s a heady mix of risk and reward, which taps directly into human motivational processes. For some gay men, chemsex is a form of self-expression and liberation, in a world that has felt isolating or prejudiced at times. For tourists in big cities, chemsex can be a way of connecting very quickly with the gay community and enjoying sexual experiences.
As with any drug use or reward-seeking behaviour, no-one ever starts out with the intention of doing themselves or other people harm or getting addicted. Many people who attend chemsex parties won’t get addicted or ‘play’ so much that it damages other areas of their life.For some, however, experimentation becomes riskier as they chase guaranteed highs or specific sensations. As drugs are used more frequently and in greater quantities, the risks of physical and psychological addiction increase too.
When addiction sets in, the choice about engaging in chemsex – including how often, how long and what people do – is diminished or non-existent. As with any other addiction, people can find themselves doing things they did not intend to do, bringing about guilt, shame or disassociation with self.
Brian Paddick has now spoken out very movingly about the loss of his former partner and friend, Michael. Paddick was one of Britain’s most senior police officers, who himself never used drugs. In 2013, he received a phone call from Michael’s brother, to inform him that Michael was on a life support machine at University College Hospital in London.Michael was brain dead with no hope of recovery. Paddick rushed to the hospital to say goodbye. Within 12 hours, Michael’s life support machine was switched off.
At St Pancras Coroner’s Court, the tragedy of Michael’s death was investigated. Michael was at a chemsex party, where he took GHB. He took a second dose of GHB by mistake and then made himself sick, which he believed would prevent an overdose. He returned to the party and lay down on the sofa, where he started snoring. Other people at the party thought he was asleep, so they moved to another room.At the inquest, the coroner said: “For future reference, if someone has taken GHB and they start snoring, that’s when to call the ambulance, because that’s a sign their respiratory system is shutting down.”
By the time the ambulance crew arrived, it was too late. “The ambulance worked on him for half an hour at the scene and managed to get him restarted and got him to hospital, but they reckon he hadn’t been breathing for about an hour,” Brian Paddick said. “There’s no way back from that.”
Christine Schierano, a criminologist at Liverpool John Moores University, has been observing London’s evolving chemsex scene since 2011. Her research is the only long-term ethnographical study into the chemsex scene. Schierano happened upon the chemsex world in 2011 through a group of her gay male friends. They invited her to chemsex parties, where she started documenting this element of gay subculture.
She identified the key role played by chemsex dealers, who began to hold chemsex parties in their homes. Dealers mainly supply chemsex drugs face-to-face, as well as via dating apps. Due to the intensity of the scene, most dealers don’t last very long on the chemsex scene. Of the 23 dealers, Schierano profiled from 2011, only 3 of them were still in London in 2017.
In Schierano’s view, “chemsex is mainly people chilling out, some having sex, some taking drugs, listening to music and laughing”; however, in her opinion, “chemsex is not a happy ending for most people. It does more damage than good.”
She also identified loneliness as a key factor in chemsex. “Even though it’s very multicultural and full of people, London is the loneliest city in world. The chemsex scene is the product of this,” she said.
When substance abuse and/ or sex addiction take over, it can be a very scary, disempowering and isolating experience. The feeling of not being able to stop, even if you desperately want to, can be confusing and incredibly frightening. Increasing consequences of chemsex – such as damage to relationships, health, finances, employment and self-respect – can mount up over time.
Not everyone who participates in chemsex will have a bad experience or get addicted, but for those who do, the consequences can be devastating. As addiction progresses, people can take greater risks to achieve to same highs they achieved early on, increasing the amounts of drugs they take or the kind of sexual activity they’ll participate in.
And there’s a further issue for people from the LGBT community. Often, gay people already feel a certain amount of stigma due to their sexuality and experiencing homophobia in society. Coming forward for help with chemsex addiction can be extremely difficult because it requires an enormous amount of trust that they will not be even further stigmatised.
There are specialist support workers in London, including 56 Dean Street, who are available advise gay men about safer chemsex practices, which is a vital source of information and support.
But what about people who want to stop chemsex altogether? Professional addiction help, including residential treatment, is available for chemsex addicts. UKAT treats all forms of drug addiction, often in combination with behavioural or process addictions including sex.
We specialise in abstinence-based rehabilitation programmes with medically supervised detoxification if required, in order for clients to confront the harms of their addiction, as well as uncover the root causes of addictive behaviours.
Chemsex recovery starts with a willingness to abstain from chemsex, in order to gain understanding into the physical, mental and emotional drivers for addictive behaviours. If you want to stop chemsex but cannot do it alone, UKAT have a range of residential treatment facilities, to suit all budgets and personal requirements.
7 Shocking Facts About Meth in the Gay Community
As one of the most popular drugs in the gay community, users mistakenly believe that crystal meth leads to fun and enhances their life experiences. Due to that train of thought, this drug has become somewhat of an epidemic among the gay population—particularly in major metropolitan cities.
Meth Abuse is Rampant
In general, gay men report higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction than their straight counterparts. Over the last 15 years, crystal meth has grown into a particularly destructive force in the gay community.
“The number of arrests involving crystal meth has doubled so far this year over 2013,” said Michael Kasten, a committee chairperson on Florida’s No More Meth Task Force. “If you look at the actual arrests by sector [in Florida], they are in the gay neighborhoods of Fort Lauderdale.”
“It’s such a tough problem. There’s such a high rate of recidivism; you don’t get much success,” said Mark Ketcham, executive director of SunServe. “If you know you’re not going to win, it’s hard to take it on, but we have to start somewhere. We have to start addressing the whys. It’s an uphill battle, this damn thing. It’s just very frustrating.”
Meth is Combined with Other Drugs
The gay community is the largest consumer of “party” drugs. Though crystal meth is by far the most popular party drug, a lot of gay men and women combine their meth use with other drugs. A few of the substances commonly combined with meth include Special K, Poppers, Viagra, GHB and Ecstasy.
One of the most concerning trends in the gay community is “speedballing.” When someone mixes sedatives and uppers—drugs with opposite effects—the results can quickly throw body systems into chaos.
While meth and heroin are often combined, the most popular speedball cocktails in the gay community include meth and GHB or Viagra. The problem is that many users aren’t aware of the life-threatening dangers associated with speedballing.
“GHB is a sedative and goes hand in hand with meth. First you get a blast of high from the meth and then the GHB evens you out,” said Todd Connaughty, director of clinical services at the Pride Institute in Minnesota. “… With GHB it’s very easy to pass out and bad things can quickly happen.”
What’s more, newly released data also reveals that the combination of crystal meth and Viagra can escalate HIV production in the brain.
Sex/Meth Parties are Increasingly Popular
Thanks to social media platforms like Grindr and Tinder, sex parties have become extremely prevalent. Party hosts often advertise that guests will be treated to free meth and anonymous sexual escapades. In many areas of the nation, these parties have become a regular occurrence. And, unfortunately, most of the party guests end up having unprotected sex.
Recently, a man named Zachary opened up to SFGN magazine about the prevalence of sex/meth parties in South Florida. Zachary, a recovering addict, attended one of these lavish parties after reading an invitation post on Grindr.
“The party was hosted in a house situated in downtown West Palm Beach. There was like this extravagance to it. It was very classy. They had coolers, drinks and Gatorades, a snack bar. It was a well organized event,” said Zachary.
Making things worse, most—if not all—of the sexual intercourse that took place that night was unprotected.
It was all unsafe sex. I didn’t care because I was high. In the two days that I was there, 75 or 80 percent of the time we were having sex
Meth is Highly Dangerous for Gay, HIV Positive Men
Though meth is a destructive force in every demographic, it’s particularly damaging within the gay community. The most pressing concerns are based on data that indicates crystal meth can potentially help promote a virulent strain of HIV (dubbed the HIV “SuperVirus”) and/or severely reduce the effects of life-saving HIV medications.
After 1 year of evaluation, the results showed that meth users had a lower ratio of CD4/CD8 cells—immune cells playing an important role in HIV—indicating less resilience of the immune system.
A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) examined a group of male gay drug users who were all HIV positive. The test group contained men who used meth, cocaine, pot, alcohol and various other party drugs. All were taking effective HIV medications and, upon starting the study, had low levels of the HIV virus in their blood.
After one year of evaluation, the results showed that meth users had a lower ratio of CD4/CD8 cells—immune cells playing an important role in HIV—indicating less resilience of the immune system. Additionally, these men had a measurably higher amount of HIV in their semen.
Spike of New HIV Infections in Younger Homosexuals
Right now, the highest level of risk reported belongs to the under-40 gay population in the western states, with the highest usage belonging to gay men between the ages of 17 and 29.
This risk includes both risk of crystal meth addiction and risk of acquiring HIV. For those who are HIV negative, using crystal meth could potentially put them on the “fast track” to contracting the deadly virus.
For members of the gay community who are already HIV positive, using crystal meth speeds up the damage to their bodies and minds. Even with the most effective anti-viral drug cocktails,
HIV positive people are susceptible to a host of brain and body illnesses. Weight loss, muscle deterioration and AIDS dementia are commonly advanced among members of the gay HIV positive community
IV Meth Use On the Rise Among Gay Men
Research has shown that there is a serious uptick in the number of gay meth users injecting the drug. In fact, the number of men injecting (in a sexual context) quadrupled between 2011 and 2013, according to Antidote, a U.K. LGBT support service.
The figures, compiled by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), seemingly back up experts’ warnings of a “meteoric rise” in the number of gay men injecting meth.
The IV trend—known as “slamming”—gives users an intense rush or high. Many gay men are tempted to inject meth at sex parties, which can go on for days. Those same experts warn that the IV meth use trend is likely linked to the disturbing rise of HIV infection rates among gay men.
Sex without Meth Can Feel Devastatingly Disappointing
Though quitting meth is hard for all users, it’s doubly hard for gay men. Meth causes an enormous surge of dopamine in the brain. This “feel good” chemical is responsible for the feelings of euphoria and sexual arousal meth is famous for. Using the drug enhances pleasure, eliminates sexual boundaries and makes even the shyest user feel like a social butterfly. Once the drug is no longer supplied, all those feelings disappear.
Once in recovery, most gay men wrestle with the fact that they can no longer sexually perform as they did while actively using meth. During the recovery process, they are faced with the reality that sober sex is much different than meth sex. And for some, the resulting sense of loss is too much to handle.
Since sexual activity places gay men at a high risk of relapse, most experts advise them to abstain from sex of any kind for at least one year. The resulting intimacy isolation can make it extremely difficult for gay men to stay off meth.
The IV trend—known as “slamming”—gives users an intense rush or high. Many gay men are tempted to inject meth at sex parties…
How Stereotypes About Drug Use Harm the Gay Community
There is a stereotype that gay men use recreational drugs. While research tells us that sexual minorities, including gay men, may be more likely to use drugs, and at higher risk for substance use problems and addictions,
the truth is that many gay men do not use drugs. For example, statistics showing that a third of gay men use drugs also indicate that twice as many do not.
Most of the focus of research into substance use in sexual minorities has been with gay men, largely because of concerns about HIV in the gay community. Research has shown that some gay men engage in the dangerous party and play activities, during which substance use, and particularly the use of crystal meth, has been combined with unsafe sex,
including sex with multiple partners. Yet research has also shown that one of many myths about gay meth use is that these activities are common among gay men — in reality, only a minority of gay men take meth and have unsafe sex.
Sources of Misinformation in the Gay Community
So where do these myths come from? There are several possible sources of this misinformation.
One source of the misinformation is research bias. Studies of drug use among gay men may recruit samples of men who are not representative of the full population of gay men, but instead, subpopulations of drug-using gay men.
While it does appear that subcultures of gay men do engage in recreational drug use, those who do not may not be identified by researchers, particularly if they are well integrated into the mainstream community.
In fact, when studies are carefully reviewed, there is not a consistent message that gay men use drugs more than straight or bisexual men. In fact, it seems that while bisexual young people are more likely to use drugs than other sexual identity groups, gay young men are not necessarily more likely than straight men to use drugs, particularly alcohol.
Another source of the stereotype could reflect gay men when they are new to the gay scene, who are isolated, and reach out to other gay men through gay dating sites and gay bars, simply because it is the easiest way to meet peers and potential partners. The focus of these settings may be casual sex and even PnP, which can seem to be the norm.
This doesn't reflect non-sexual relationships with other gay men who are not engaging in these activities, which can take time to develop.
The stereotype can also be reinforced deliberately and used to take advantage of the naivety of young, less experienced gay men. Some unscrupulous drug dealers take advantage of young, naive gay men by selling them drugs apply peer pressure by implying that drug use is what all gay men are doing, rather than that they are exploiting a young man to do something unwise or unusual.
Another place these myths come from is die-hard homophobes. Homophobia may be conscious or unconscious, but some very harmful attitudes towards gay men emerged in the 1980s, and for some people, have not disappeared.These attitudes can include the belief that gay men are more likely to both use drugs and to engage in compulsive sex than heterosexuals.
In reality, drug use and sex addiction can occur in men or women, and in both heterosexuals and sexual minorities. Although party and play are typically used to describe gay drug-fuelled sex, in fact, the practice of taking drugs prior to casual sex is common among sex workers, who have to cope with a variety of stressors,
including having sex with people they are not attracted to. And the phenomenon of heterosexuals getting intoxicated and even front-loading before engaging in casual sex is so common as to be considered normal in many communities, particularly among younger people.
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