Tackling drug use in our community
A couple of months ago the Victorian Government became the first state government to fund an LGBTI focused alcohol and drug service. From September 1, VAC (Victorian AIDS Council) has been providing alcohol and drug counselling and case management from sites in South Yarra, Fitzroy and Coburg. Although it’s only a small service at this stage, when combined with the HEY (Healthy, Equal, Youth) grants, this is the first time a Victorian Government has funded LGBTI health services that are not related to HIV or sexual health.
One of the areas for action discussed in the VAC and Living Positive Victoria’s joint election platform is tackling drug use in our community, particularly among gay men. There are lots of myths about how queer communities use drugs and the risks we take. All the way back to the ‘Tasty Raid’, people were talking about how we use drugs. Strangely, as a community we don’t talk about it much ourselves, except to reinforce the myths. Drug use is more normalised in our community and, for many, continues to be a rite of passage into ‘the scene’. We use drugs differently to the rest of society. This is why we need our own alcohol and drug services. Mainstream services are less likely to understand the role of the scene in queer life and the peer pressures associated with use.
There is scant reliable evidence about how our community uses drugs, but we do know a few things. There is evidence to suggest that GLBTI communities use alcohol and other drugs at higher rates than the general community and are less likely to abstain from alcohol and/or drug use. Alcohol is our drug of choice: both men who have sex men (MSM) and same-sex attracted women are consuming more alcohol than the general community. In MSM, this has been associated with issues such as depression and in same-sex attracted women we have seen higher rates of alcohol use disorders, such as dependence. With higher rates of alcohol use, there are also higher rates of other issues such as violence, relationship problems, drink driving and health concerns.
Methamphetamine (Ice or Crystal) use is significantly higher among gay men than the general community. Some studies have suggested rates are as much as four times higher, and this figure rises with age. The potential for harm with illegal drugs increases in part due to their illegality and in part due to the way we use these drugs. When using drugs like methamphetamine or GHB, the goal, most likely, is to be intoxicated. We don’t always use alcohol to get drunk. When we are intoxicated, though, we are more likely to take risks – such as sexual risks or driving under the influence.
Funding an LGBTI specific service is the first step to tackling these issues in our community. As our election platform states, we also need targeted harm reduction campaigns that are believable to our community. We need research that helps separate the myths from the facts. Much of what little research exists is about MSM. We need more information about how the broader gender and sexually diverse community uses drugs in order to be able to provide relevant services to them.
Alcohol and drug services aren’t just for those who have hit rock bottom. They are for anyone who is concerned about their own, or a loved one’s, drug use. If you’re not sure, give us a call and have a chat.
To access VAC’s Alcohol and Other Drug service call 1800 906 669 or (03) 9690 9390.
To read our election platform go to: vac.org.au