Los Angeles LGBTQ activist and Democratic donor Ed Buck’s arrest on Sept. 17 offers a lens into both the widespread use of crystal meth in a segment of the gay male community, and arrangements in which older men with more money and status use meth to ply sexual favors from younger men — sometimes ending very badly for the younger men.
Buck, 65, was charged on Sept. 17 with one count each of battery causing serious injury, administering methamphetamine and maintaining a drug house after a 37-year-old man overdosed, but survived, at Buck’s apartment on Sept. 11.
This follows the 2017 meth overdose deaths of two African-American men — Gemmel Moore, 26, and Timothy Dean, 55 — in Buck’s West Hollywood apartment.
Prosecutors say Buck lured the men to his home with offers of drugs, money and shelter. In exchange he manipulated them into joining in sexual fetishes that include “supplying and personally administering dangerously large doses of narcotics to his victims,” they wrote in court papers.
“I feel vindicated for all the people who said [Buck’s arrest] was never going to happen,” said Jasmyne Cannick, an LGBTQ advocate and spokeswoman for Moore’s mother. “I feel really good for all the young men he took advantage of because they didn’t feel like anyone took them seriously, like their lives weren’t important enough for anyone to really care about.”
Ft. Lauderdale-based substance abuse expert and certified sex therapist David Fawcett, Ph.D., says, “Meth use among gay men in New York City has risen 400 percent.” Author of “Lust, Men and Meth: A Gay Man’s Guide to Sex and Recovery,” Fawcett says estimates run as high as 1 in 4 gay men in major urban areas in the U.S. who are semi-regularly using meth. “It’s at epidemic levels in the gay community,” he says.
As for the inter-generational drugs-for-sex exchange, Fawcett says in the just-out documentary “Crystal City,” “Meth is a great equalizer.” He explains, “The older guys with money provide the meth and the younger guys provide sex.”
Why does this wildly addictive, potentially deadly drug — its lethal effects can include stroke, heart attack, liver and kidney failure and even rotted teeth — hold such strong appeal for a large minority of gay men in particular?
Meth’s best-known effects are pleasure and dissociation, as it works on the brain’s limbic system, the reward circuitry. Combined with sex, as it frequently is by its gay male users, meth explodes physical and emotional pleasure through the roof — and kicks good judgment to the curb.
Meth is well known to make men hypersexual, even as it shatters any personal standards they may have had for protecting themselves and their partners against HIV. But if pleasure alone was meth’s main appeal, then surely the three-quarters of gay men who do not use the drug would also be drawn to it — along with the rest of the human race.
A bigger attraction is the chance to escape the isolation and loneliness that are rampant in the gay community. “Meth is a really effective way to numb what in the literature is called ‘minority stress,’” says Fawcett. “People who have experienced a lot of stigma based on who they are, experience a lot of mental health and addiction issues. I’ve had a lot of clients who have never been comfortable with gay sex who felt that with meth for the first time they could celebrate being gay and having gay sex.”
Those who combine meth and sex face the highest rate of relapse, “typically about 90 percent,” says Fawcett.
Fawcett told me in an interview about “Crystal City” that both straight and gay men connect meth use to porn and sex addiction because both operate similarly in the brain. “We approach it as an intimacy disorder, an intensity disorder, an increasing need for intensity,” he said, describing the practice called Seeking Integrity through which he and fellow therapist Rob Weiss work with gay men.
Twelve-step abstinence-based recovery programs have proved to be the most successful approach to addressing meth addiction. A key to their success is the supportive community they provide. “Any recovery solution must have a communal aspect,” said Fawcett.
The LGBTQ community certainly has the creativity, connections to government funders and other resources to be able to direct attention to the growing meth epidemic among urban gay men.
We need one that addresses depression and HIV stigma, two major drivers of risky behavior — and huge reasons so many gay men feel the need for analgesia to ease their emotional pain.
Meth and other drug abuse, and HIV too, should rightly be looked at as symptoms of that pain. First address what’s hurting. That’s how healing becomes possible and the need for pain-relief will decrease.
John-Manuel Andriote is a journalist and author who has written about healthcare and political issues, as well as culture for such newspapers at The Washington Post and others. His coverage of the HIV/AIDS crisis began in 1986. He was diagnosed with HIV in 2005 and has continued to write about living with HIV/AIDS. He also has a blog, “Stonewall Strong,” that is syndicated on Psychology Today. Learn more about him at jmandriote.com.