Medical Providers Are Failing Queer Men of Color Who Use Crystal Meth

    Increasing rates of crystal methamphetamine use amongst Black and Latino queer men is often overlooked in the media. In response, Harm Reduction Coalition, BEAM (Black Emotional & Mental Health) Collective, and the Counter Narrative Projects have released a report detailing the risks faced by this community and providing a valuable toolkit for care providers to support them.

    Launched December 18, Blueprint: A Community Response to Crystal Meth combines an assessment of social service and health providers with testimony from Black and Latino men who have sex with men (MSM), as they are referred to in public health literature.

    Through data collected from online surveys, Blueprint identifies the shortcomings of providers in regards to supporting Black and Latino queer men who use meth. The report found that crystal meth was rarely a subject of inquiry for health professionals, with only 54 percent of providers stating that they would ask about drug use if it “came up naturally in conversation.”

    But medical providers, according to those professionals as well as patients, are not the go-to resources for people who used meth.

    “[Doctors are] definitely not knowledgeable,” said one 35-year-old respondent from Atlanta. “I think it is new to more general physicians and the ones you just go to get a physical don’t know much about it. The ones that I realized are a little bit more sensitive are the mental health providers, especially the ones specifically geared toward LGBTQ patients … they are the ones that don’t make you feel stigma …. ’cause I felt like I have been stigmatized for it.”

    The report also identifies what providers should be doing. Education about the specifics of Black and Latino MSM’s crystal meth use is required. Use does not occur in a vacuum, but rather is informed by and contributes to many other facets of life.

    The risks of meth as perceived by people who use it are forefronted in Blueprint, many of which defy the typical public-health emphasis on physiological risks. Instead, the report found that “top priority risks for Black and Latino MSM were social risks,” like “looks and appearance” and “loss of control in the moment.” Such findings demonstrate that an adequate community response to crystal meth use in queer male communities of color must also attend to harms that lie outside of orthodox definitions of health.

    “There is consistent evidence linking social isolation to poor mental health outcomes, and sufficient understanding that the intersections of patriarchal male socialization, transphobia, homophobia, and racism contribute to the emotional isolation of Black gay men,” noted Yolo Akili, executive director of BEAM.

    In one study that compared methamphetamine use amongst MSM across race, “almost half of the Black men (49 percent) in the sample indicated use of methamphetamine in the four months prior to assessment.” Though this rate was lower than that of white male respondents, the study noted that due to the drug’s lowering of inhibitions along with “the disproportionate impact of HIV on the Black population,” lower levels of methamphetamine use in this segment of the population can still cause “high levels of damage.”

    More research is still needed, but the new report is an important step forward in highlighting overlooked experiences. “Black gay men must be the authors of our own narratives,” pointed out Charles Stephens of the Counter Narrative Project. “Far too often we are spoken for, or about, without much concern about our own experiences and stories.”

    Blueprint bucked that trend. “One of the most rewarding aspects of working on this project has been intentionally and actively including the expertise and voices of those with lived experience in its development,” said Tanagra Melgarejo, Capacity Building Services Manager–West at Harm Reduction Coalition. “We believe these tools can improve the nature of interactions between service providers and Black and Latino participants who identify as gay or bisexual men who use crystal methamphetamine.”

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