Kevin Delahunty will never forget the first time he tried crystal methamphetamine, also known as ’meth’ or ‘tina’. The drug took over his life following that first puff and nearly ended it.
"That moment still haunts me to this day. I still hear the familiar voice and feel the smoke entering my lungs," Delahunty said. "That evening turned into days, weeks,
months and years of horrible mood swings, sleepless nights, lies and more."
He eventually ended up on the corner of Grosvenor and Bay streets approaching unknown cars and hanging out in bathhouses pulling tricks in order to have a place to sleep and money to support his addiction.
A problem in the gay party scene
According to workers at the Toronto Drug Strategy, crystal meth isn’t a drug of major concern in the city. But it has become an issue for one particular subculture within the city.
Susan Sheppard is the project manager of Toronto’s Drug Strategy. "It is becoming a problem with men involved in the gay party scene," she said.
The Drug Strategy estimates that less than two per cent of Torontonians have tried meth. Compare that to the estimated number of gay men in the city who’ve tried the drug and the problem is obvious.
Nick Boyce, the Gay Men’s Harm Reduction co-ordinator for the Aids Committee of Toronto (ACT), says although it’s hard to give an exact figure, meth use among this community is much higher than in the city’s population as a whole.
"When combining various different surveys and by making comparisons with other geographical areas and communities, it is probable that about 10% of gay men in Toronto have tried the drug at some point," Boyce said.
Meth use is prevalent enough that the Aids Committee of Toronto set up a special task force to deal with the issue, the Toronto Gay/Bisexual Men’s Crystal Meth Task Force. There is also an awareness project based on the Internet called Himynameistina.com.
The site is an educational tool to let people know about the dangers of meth use and how to avoid common risks associated with the drug. But the site avoids the ‘just say no’ approach.
"Telling people what not to do does not work; in many cases it can actually have the reverse effect," Boyce said.
Open, honest, balanced discussion
"We want to allow open, honest, balanced and supportive discussion that can promote wellness in the community. It is hoped that this can minimize the negative consequences related to the use of this substance."
Besides educating men who are potential or actual meth users, the site also enables ACT and other groups such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to learn more about meth use within the community. In doing so, the site will help outreach groups understand the key issues and concerns that users face.
"We are trying to get a clearer sense of who is using and where," Boyce said. "It is hoped that this will allow us to understand what issues might be out there, which people we could consider reaching out to, and how to best reach different audiences."
Delahunty decided to put his story up on Himynameistina.com in order spread information about what can happen if you don’t take meth seriously. He hopes that by sharing his experience with the drug, he may be able to save somebody else from what he went through.
"I share my story with as many people as possible. Not because I look for pity, but to educate people about the serious negative effects of this drug," Delahunty said.
"I was fortunate to re-open my eyes, but many users do not."