Today, three times as many gay and bisexual men in London inject drugs, than in England as a whole, according to a new analysis. It also found that four times as many use crystal meth in the capital than across the rest of the country. The figures, that were compiled by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, are reinforcing the experts’ warnings of a “meteoric” rise in the number of gay men injecting drugs such as mephedrone (meow, meow), GHB or crystal meth. The trend is known as slamming (this context gay slamming) and it gives its users a more intense high and usually takes place at sex parties which can carry on for several days. Experts warn that this trend could be linked to the rise in HIV infection rates.
The number of men injecting within a sexual context has quadrupled between 2011 and 2013, according Antidote, a UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender drug and alcohol support service. More than 60% of their clients injected drugs last year. This is nearly double the number who injected in 2010. And nine years ago, it was fewer than 1 per cent.
Antidote has been “overwhelmed” by men coming in with health conditions from the sexualized use of the drugs, which also increase libido while decreasing sexual inhibition. The reports of men sharing needles and sleeping with, five to ten partners per drug using episode, have run alarm bells.
“It’s become somewhat destigmatised,” said Antidote’s David Stuart, who is believed to be the country’s first drug counsellor specialising in sexual health. “You can go on Grindr or other apps … and you can see the world of slamming is glamorised. A man will say: ‘Yeah, I slam.’ But if you ask him if he’s an addicted drug user, he’ll say: ‘F**k off’.”
Experts believe this is a key to a trend in rising HIV infection levels. Diagnoses among men who have sex with men continue to rise and reached an all-time high in 2012; 3,250 were recorded. London had the highest number of new diagnoses (1,450).
LSHTM is analysing EMIS, the European “Men who have sex with men” internet survey. More than 180,000 participants from 38 European countries took part in 2010, including almost 18,000 men from the UK.
Preliminary analysis for The Independent on Sunday found that 2.3 per cent of men from London who completed the survey had injected drugs in the previous 12 months, compared with just 0.8 per cent of men from England. Nearly 3 per cent of men who lived in the capital used crystal meth within the previous month, compared with 0.7 per cent elsewhere in England.
Dr Bourne added that previous research indicates that drug use, and particularly crystal meth, is higher among HIV positive gay men than those who are negative or who are untested.
A spokesman for Public Health England, which has established a working group to develop guidance on the trend, said: “This is a serious health issue that is driving poor sexual and mental health, as well as the transmission and acquisition of HIV and other blood-borne viruses.”
He added that the national health protection service is “concerned” about the increasing use of drugs, “in particular, in the context of sex parties, where unprotected sex may occur”.
James Taylor, head of policy at gay rights campaigning group Stonewall, said that the figures are “deeply worrying”. He added: “This makes it all the more vital that prevention messages and information are targeted at gay and bisexual men, to highlight the very real risks of injection drug use.”