“State government to fight ice scourge”; “Ice and Grindr: danger in the playground”; “Crystal meth linked to HIV rise in Australia”; “Increase in HIV linked to ice”. As you can see, crystal methamphetamine is very much in the news at the moment. Particularly in Melbourne, where findings of a parliamentary inquiry into crystal meth have been released and a drug conference — Ice & Altered Realities — has been held.
But how accurate are the headlines? Is ice really behind an increase in HIV diagnoses in Australia? According to one study the answer appears to be yes. Conducted by the Prahran Market Clinic in south-east Melbourne, the study reveals a “convincing significant association” between crystal meth use and HIV diagnoses among MSM (men who have sex with men).
However, the report’s co-author, Dr Beng Eu, is keen to point out that the study isn’t trying to simplify the link between meth use and HIV as mere cause and effect. “Obviously not all meth use is problematic, and we’re not suggesting it is,” said Eu. “Rather, we hope the study and its findings will assist doctors to start conversations with patients who might be more likely to be using meth and putting themselves at risk of HIV.”
Eu’s study surveyed 211 gay men between 2011 and 2013, 65 of whom were HIV-positive and 146 who were not. Of those HIV-positive, 63.1% reported using crystal meth in the past year. (This compared with 33.6% of respondents who were not HIV-positive.) Also, out of the positive participants, 84% believed their use of ice had led to their HIV status — hence the hysterical headlines.
Admitting he was surprised at the reaction to the survey, Dr Eu hopes the findings will encourage people to examine their drug use and seek assistance if they feel their behaviour is having a negative impact on their ability to stay healthy with HIV. “Talking about this openly is the first step towards thinking about how to manage the problem,” said Eu.
Living Positive Victoria’s vice-president Richard Keane is also calling for open dialogue. “I feel there is a very hostile environment surrounding the use of crystal meth across the community,” said Keane. “The media sensationalism of the ice ‘pandemic’ particularly around people who are HIV-positive and gay men is not helpful. We must engage with those directly affected. It is within these conversations that some of the answers and a more unified and mature response can be found.”
BY CHRISTOPHER KELLY