The sex-machine drug has pumped up gay HIV rates—and sapped HIVer health

The HIVer Appeal:
Whether snorted, injected or smoked, crystal meth (methamphetamine) charges users with days of sleepless energy. This speed variant has hit big in dance clubs in recent years and has fueled many a sex-a-thon where “condom sense” gets thrown to the wind (see “Life vs. Meth,” POZ, July/August 2002). HIVer meth users in California told researchers it gave them temporary relief from being HIV positive and is a method for coping with the specter of death.

Why crystal and HIV don’t mix:
Users often go hours or days without food, sleep or water, stressing the immune system. Then there’s the days-long crash that can cause exhaustion, suicidal depression, paranoia and even a full-blown psychotic jag. HIV meds can hamper the liver’s ability to process meth, causing a fatal overdose. One study found that heavy meth users rival Parkinson’s patients in motor-control loss. Meth also causes jaw clenching, tooth grinding and dry mouth, which can destroy the gums and teeth. It dissolves inhibitions, too—encouraging unsafe sex that can spread your HIV and expose you to STDs (from hepatitis C to syphilis to herpes) or a drug-resistant HIV strain. And if you don’t eat or sleep for days, do you really think you’re going to take your HIV meds?

The Big Fix:
Resources for kicking meth have grown right along with the drug’s popularity (see “Recovery Rooms” ). Crystal Meth Anonymous, a 12-step program long established on the West Coast, has expanded across the country, while more addiction treatment centers and gay-health agencies are addressing the charged connection among crystal, sex and HIV. You’ll even find programs and websites for doing crystal more safely, though “it’s virtually impossible to determine a safe dose of crystal meth for HIV positive people,” says New York City HIV doc Antonio Urbina, MD.