Monday, October 22, 2007

Where and How Do We Draw the Line?

My friend Michael Crawford, author of Bloggernista and The Bilerico Project, included this great Crystal Meth PSA amongst his interview with Jim Pickett, the AIDS advocacy director for AIDS Foundation Chicago. Click here for the interview.

I agree with Pickett and applaud him on the majority of what he says like promoting clear and honest information about drug use and STD rates, a greater focus on mental health, equal rights, and going beyond HIV and meth. However, Picket drops the word "fear-based" several times and I am left to ask what is the meaning of "fear-based?" Pickett goes on to say there should be equal attention focusing on alcohol consumption amongst gay men, which causes more damage in the majority of gay men opposed to the small minority using crystal. However this is where "fear-based" ads come into play. Other than stating the facts how are you going to curb alcohol use in any community? For instance: Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is bad for your health and causes cancer. Yet people still smoke. Nobody says to themselves, as they pull a cigarette out and pops it into their mouth, "this cigarette will kill me." We still smoke even when we pull a cigarette from a pack which states in huge black bold lettering, "Smoking kills." We all know smoking is bad but we do it anyway. There needs to be something stronger, something more striking and devastating other than just presenting the facts if we want people to strongly reconsider their choices.

Punch me in the face or give me the finger, either way I'm the first to admit that many gay men have very thick skulls. I know in my own experience I've told my recreational crystal using friends the facts and dangers associated with the drug, over and over, with compassion, communication and care yet they do it anyway. There- I've presented the facts and allowed them to make their own choices. They still feel as though they can "handle" crystal. And maybe so, but still, we all know the one person, or two or three, that couldn't and before they knew what hit 'em, they're addicted, jobless, or positive. Or all three.

And then what? When they come to us as addicts do we shrug and say, "Well the facts are out there, clearly stated on paper, we told you the information, but you made your own choices, bummer." Sorry, but a little too passive-aggressive for me. Tell me my facts are wrong, tell me I'm not speaking from a statistical standpoint- fine, go ahead. But out of the 5 people I know who have been involved in Crystal, 2 are recreational users or "non addicts," 2 are in recovery and both positive (one sero-converted while in the midst of meth use and the other doesn't know,) and 1 is consistently in and out of recovery. So do we present these facts or is that "fear-basing," Mr. Pickett, because in my mind it's a sign of a potential and often occurring reality.


Dennis said...

Very well put. I think some people don't want to use "fear based" messages because they can easily become hyperbolic, i.e. TAKE CRYSTAL AND YOU WILL DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS, YOU MONSTER! I think that means we should take a measured approach with fear based ads, not should avoid them entirely.

Bloggernista said...

I think we need different messages targeting different groups of gay men. We may all dig dudes, but that doesn't mean that we are the same or that we respond to the same things.

I think Jim's point is that after a while the Meth=Death type campaigns end up becoming like the old "This is your brain on drugs." campaign.

We need to present the reality of what a bitch meth can be and create programming that will deal with the broader issues that lead some men to abuse meth.

This is definitely a conversation that we need to be having in the broader gay male community.

LifeLube said...

Hey, I appreciate all these comments and do not disagree with the points made in the post. I have a few quick thoughts... First, I do believe we can point out the harms in using any kind of substance without that message being "fear-based." I think we should include info like that in addition to the benefits of use and ways to reduce harm if someone is not ready to reduce their use or quit... All this can be done without being hysterical or histrionic or demonizing people... Unfortunately, when we demonize use, we also demonize the user and that is not a great way to draw that person into some level of care... Second, I think we really have to address the underlying factors that lead us to ab/use substances like crystal ---- loneliness, disconnection, depression for instance. We just finished doing a needs assessment type survey of gay men in Chicago and found a large amount of guys saying they felt lonely and depressed. Instead of saying "don't drink too much" or "crystal will fry your brain" we really need to be thinking about the mental and emotional state many of us are in and which lead us to making less-than-healthy choices around sex/drugs. Alcohol and crystal and all the rest fill a need for people... What do we need to do to fill that need in a healthier way? And as I mentioned to Michael in the Bloggernista interview, we have to really start talking about ALCOHOL in our community, in addition to all the other substances that impact us. A focus on one thing at a time is very myopic and unhelpful. All the negative shit about crystal is turning some guys to go to coke --- is this really what we want? Aren't we as a community being hypocritical with all of the energy around crystal and meanwhile, all of our orgs and events have two or three alcohol manufacturers as leading sponsors and we don't spend some energy on that issue? I am not saying we should ignore crystal, and clearly, as a chair of the Chicago Crystal Meth Task Force I think it warrants a lot of attention, but not to the exclusion of other addictions...

Thanks for the chance to respond. Please visit early and often!

Jim Pickett