Crikey published a piece yesterday (item 13) about crystal
methamphetamine, the gay community in Sydney, and the AIDS Council of NSW (ACON)
by a Pete Tibby. The piece made some
ridiculous claims about ACON, many of which are not worth responding to.
However on the issue of our response to crystal we want to set the record
straight.

ACON has been engaged in health
promotion work in response to crystal methamphetamine use in the NSW GLBT
community for some time. We are one of the few agencies in Australia to be
addressing this issue as we try to ward off the type of problems other countries
such as the United States are facing with this particular drug.

We think crystal is a problem, we want to do
more work in this area and we will as new funding becomes available. But crystal
use is not the only health issue for our communities, it doesn’t affect everyone
in our communities, and it certainly isn’t responsible for every HIV
transmission. To suggest that we should divert funds from other programs to
work on crystal use is irresponsible and lets governments off the hook from
adequately funding a coordinated response. It is equally irresponsible to
suggest that we should follow the lead of countries like the USA where scare
campaigns have led to increased problematic crystal use and increased HIV
transmission rates.

Thanks to Pete for
pointing out that HIV infections are not increasing in NSW, in stark contrast to
other states of Australia and other comparable places in the world which have
experienced large increases in rates of HIV infection for six or seven
consecutive years. In this context we do not see this as demonstrating a
failure of our work – though ACON and NSW Health share a goal to cut HIV
infections by a further 25% over the next three years.

On the issue of crystal, as a responsive community-based organisation
ACON has tackled this issue on a number of fronts. We have brought the GLBT
community together in a series of forums and have developed campaigns, resources
and increased access to treatment in response to the Sydney Gay Community
Periodic Survey which identified an increase in crystal use among gay men in
Sydney – from 16% of survey respondents in 2003 to 20% of respondents in 2004.

In late 2004 and early 2005 we ran a
series of seven forums for crystal users, concerned family and friends, and
service providers, so that the needs of different groups could be addressed
separately. The forums attracted hundreds of people wanting information and
support on crystal and its effects, particularly concerning problematic drug use by family and friends.

The link between crystal use and unsafe sex practices is, of course, a
major concern for ACON, and one of our first initiatives was the development of a
Crystal and Safe Sex campaign which was widely promoted though GLBT
community press and venues. Further print resources have been developed to
address the range of issues raised in the community forums.

The first resource booklet printed and available on our
website – Crystal: Effects, Health, Sex, Help – provides up to date
information for users, friends and family. It looks at how to reduce possible
negative impacts of using, treatment options and where to find help and support.
Demand for this booklet has been so great that it has recently been reprinted
after the initial print run in December last year. Our next resource booklet –
Crystal: Reducing, Quitting, Tips – has just been finalised and is about
to be sent to NSW Health for approval. We hope to have this resource printed and
available on our website in the coming weeks. Information in both of these
booklets was developed as a direct response to the series of community forums.

ACON provides counselling and works with
others to provide access to support groups like Crystal Meth Anonymous (an
abstinence model) and SMART groups (which are a reduction/management model).
We also organised a Methamphetamine
Referral Pathways Forum with key service providers and stakeholders to establish
new referral pathways for general practitioners. A funding submission to the National Illicit Drug Strategy NGO Treatments
Grants Program for a multidisciplinary community based drug team was
unsuccessful, despite it being ranked by the assessment panel as a top priority
for funding.

ACON and the National Drug
and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) late last year undertook a rapid assessment
of crystal and GHB use in the GLBT community, funded by NSW Health. The
assessment has identified implications for future research, public health
interventions and program development. We are currently using this information
to develop a more comprehensive program of response with which to seek state and
federal funding.

Our responses to crystal
use cross a broad spectrum, from harm minimisation to abstinence. We take issue
with Pete Tibby’s criticism of ACON resources that discuss how crystal is used.
Our communities’ successful response to HIV and other health issues has had its
roots in a commitment to harm minimisation—a commitment we are proud to
defend.

When ACON received accreditation
from the Quality Improvement Council of Australia last year we were commended
for our leadership and community engagement. We’re keen to continue to engage
with members of our community who have constructive ideas about how we can
improve our work.

Peter Fray

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