Turn your back on Tina, or you might lose your life

By Ed Gold

Turn your back on Tina, an insidious seductress that is causing havoc in both straight and gay communities throughout the nation.

Tina is the loving name given to crystal meth — also called ice and glass — colorless and oderless small shiny crystals, a synthetic stimulant that can take control of you and wreck your life.

In our neighborhood, the organized gay community, fully cognizant of the threat, has declared war on Tina. At the L.G.B.T. Center, Richard Burns, executive director, recoganized the problem about two years ago and began developing a plan of action.

It’s not surprising since Burns led the successful fight more than 20 years ago, with public support from some of us activists in the community, to obtain the 13th St. building, which had formerly been a food trades vocational high school, and turn it into a center for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

He remains as cool and focused now as he was then: “We have definitely been out of the closet on this one,” he notes.

He adds that the government has left preventative efforts, “particularly where gay and bisexual men are concerned, largely to grassroots activists and community-based organizations.”

The L.G.B.T. Center has developed a major print and Internet campaign, distributing fliers on the catastrophic potential of crystal meth at the recent Gay Pride Day celebration and at other gay events, writing articles for publications, producing multicolored dramatic posters and developing special messages for young gays beginning at age 13.

The Center of course maximized its Internet potential both as a vehicle for prevention and a safety net for treatment.

“Crystal meth is particularly dangerous,” Burns explains, “because it can be made at home” — Sudafed is a known ingredient — “and it’s much cheaper than other addictive drugs.”

Gays are particularly vulnerable because of the threat of H.I.V. infection. “The drug is most effective with gays who party a lot,” Burns says. “They lose inhibitions and engage in risky sex. Many wind up with H.I.V. Once they’re addicted, it’s hard to kick the habit.”

Tina began working on the West Coast, and appeared to make its way to New York in 2001. “That year,” Burns says, “we had about 20 clients seeking help. By 2004, that figure had jumped to 200 and we knew we had a serious problem on our hands.”

A frightening statistic shows up on the Center’s Web site. A study by the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention indicates that 62 percent of gays and bisexuals are frequent users of crystal meth, alcohol or ecstasy. The study also indicates that half of those hooked on Tina were H.I.V. positive.

Listen to Luis Beto, who’s been to hell and is fighting his way back.

He was trying to lose weight and a friend and mentor — who was also a drug dealer — told him Tina would do the trick. He was also told Tina would help him get over his shyness.

“I took Tina, using a pipe. Some people I know inject. It was enjoyable. I really became much more outgoing, losing my inhibitions.I begain going to clubs on the weekends. I mixed with other drugs — ecstasy and K [Ketamine].

“At the time, I was in a longterm relationship, and my partner was very sick. There came a time when I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid he would die next to me.

“When he died, I became very depressed and my smoking got out of control. My sex activity increased. I was taking on multiple partners in a single night.

“In May 2003, I was diagnosed as H.I.V. positive. By then I had a new boyfriend and I made him H.I.V. positive.

“I craved the stuff. It took me out of my depression and made me high. But problems set in. I lost many of my friends and felt abandoned.

“I became paranoid. When my boyfriend left me, I felt everyone was against me.

“I began hearing voices. I feared physical attack. At times I thought the police were after me. At other times I would call the police to protect me.”

He became desperate and finally reached out to the Center for help. He recalls that during his affair with Tina “I never once paid for it. People just gave it to me.”

So Beto entered Therapy 101 at the Center. He now goes to counselling sessions and participates in group therapy. He also takes antidepressants. He says he has been clean for 16 months, has made new friends and resumed relationships with family and some of his old friends. He is working on a 12-step program that is used to combat addiction.

“You have to give away; you can’t keep it,” by which he means he needs to let people know what happened to him with the hope that it helps save others. Recovery is hard, he says, but “you take one day at a time.”

A profile of Tina would, of course, include the fact that it is illegal, a schedule two substance under the Controlled Substance Act, in the same category as cocaine and P.C.P.

But the gay community leadership wants gay partiers to get a much clearer and sharper message, to wit:

* Tina can control your moods of happiness, pleasure and anger.

* Tina can cause nosebleeds and put sores on your body.

* Tina can increase brain damage if you’re H.I.V. positive.

* Tina can reduce the effectiveness of H.I.V. medications and in fact can make you forget to take your medications.

* Tina can cause blurred vision, shakes, dizziness and strokes.

* And Tina can kill.

The war is on between Tina and the good guys who don’t want another pandemic. And the good guys have got to win.

(For help, call Center Care, L.G.B.T. Center, 208 W. 13th St., 212-620-7310)