As the discovery of AIDS reaches its 25th anniversary, the gay community is grappling with a new epidemic, an increase in the use of what many consider to be the most dangerous drug in the United States, Crystal Meth.

In an effort to combat abuse of this highly addictive drug, New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Community Centre has announced the launch of a new ad campaign with the message, “Silence=Meth.”

The phrase “Silence=Meth” is a slightly modified but equally haunting reinterpretation of ACT UP’s famous “Silence=Death” campaign during the 1980s AIDs crisis, when posters bearing the words “Silence=Death” were plastered throughout New York City. The posters became a wake-up call to action for those most vulnerable to AIDS – gay and bisexual men.

“Twenty-five years ago our community refused to be silent about AIDS,” said Richard Burns, executive director of the centre. “Just as the ACT UP campaign alerted the gay community to AIDS in the 1980s and 90s, the Centre’s ‘Silence=Meth’ campaign will focus attention on the danger of Crystal Meth and what the entire community must do to help prevent abuse and addiction to this drug.”

Affecting all races, ages and sexual orientations, Crystal Meth is a powerful mood-altering stimulant that has been sweeping through communities across the United States.

In March 2006, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which restricts the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to illegally manufacture Crystal Meth. Although seizures of “Moonshine Meth” labs have slowed slightly under the new law, the drug still holds a tight grip on many communities across the country, including New York’s community of gay and bisexual men.

“The ACT UP ads put our government on notice that the gay and lesbian community would no longer tolerate its silence on the devastation of AIDS. Today, we need to keep talking within our community about how to address the impact of meth use and we also need to hold government accountable for giving us the necessary resources to effectively implement meth prevention and treatment,” said Barbara Warren, the centre’s director for organisational development, planning and research. “Crystal Meth not only affects the user, but everyone in the user’s life – friends, family, coworkers, community and society. No one can afford to be silent about Meth.”

The Centre’s new ads will be posted throughout the Chelsea neighbourhood urging action by friends and loved ones of Crystal Meth users. On the posters, below a pink triangle and the words “Silence=Meth,” is the sobering statement, “25 years ago, our community refused to be silent about AIDS. Today, we must not be silent about Crystal Meth.”

The Centre’s “Silence=Meth” ads are part of a larger campaign to focus anti-Crystal Meth messaging not only on the gay and bisexual men who use the drug, but on the friends and loved ones of the users, as well.

“The 25-year separation of the two campaigns is particularly relevant because the epidemics are so closely connected,” Mr Burns said. “The relationship between Crystal Meth and HIV/AIDS has become clearer over the past few years with studies showing that Crystal Meth users are more likely to engage in unsafe sex and that HIV-positive men are more likely to use Crystal Meth.”

In a 2006 survey of gay and bisexual men in New York City, approximately one in four indicated the use of Crystal Meth in the period of six months prior to the assessment. In a previous study this figure was estimated to be 14 percent – making New York second only to San Francisco as the United States city with the greatest number of gay and bisexual men who use Crystal Meth.

In addition to its counselling services, the centre has addressed the Crystal Meth crisis through its community forums, education campaigns, public policy advocacy efforts, and independent research. Congress demonstrated in 2005 its support of the centre by allocating federal funds for the expansion and enhancement of the Center’s Crystal Meth prevention and counselling programs.

The announcement of the “Silence=Meth” campaign coincides with June’s National Gay Pride Month – an event marked by the annual parade through New York City on the last Sunday of the month.

© 2006 GayWired; All Rights Reserved.