In 2004, activist Peter Staley used his stature in the gay community and political acumen (as well as his own money) to bring attention to the newest drug problem facing gay men in New York City. “Buy meth, get HIV for free,” his poster campaign advertised — and soon thereafter political officials and in turn, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, took notice.
Those of us working in the world of research had long realized that methamphetamine, which had consumed much of the country west of the Mississippi, and had wreaked havoc on gay populations in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, was permeating our community. Yet despite mounting scientific evidence and the outcries of researchers and practitioners alike, city officials did not take notice. Staley changed all that.
Soon, there was interest by local officials, community-based agencies and service providers to learn more about meth and how to treat it — and money flowed from the City Council to leading agencies to help target this new “epidemic.” For several years, efforts to curtail the use of the drug became intimately intertwined with HIV prevention efforts. And rightly so, since illicit drug use and sexual risk behaviors are intimately entangled and mutually reinforcing.
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