Party drugs linked to alarming rise in HIV amongst gay men

London sees 20 per cent rise in infections as charities call for better sexual health services

HIV infections among gay men in London are soaring, with sexual health workers saying that a “chaotic and harmful” link between high-risk drug use and gay sex in the capital is fuelling the increase.

Latest figures from Public Health England show that the rate of infection in the capital leaped by more than 20 per cent in 2012. Charities have warned that the virus is once again one of the most serious public health crises in the UK today.

Across the country, rates of infection were up by 8 per cent to 3,240 new infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). In London alone there were 1,720 new infections, with that figure likely to be revised up to nearly 2,000, figures published in The Lancet revealed. Rates of transmission are likely to have been increased by irresponsible use of needles during drug-taking, but also because of a rise in people having unprotected sex while high on drugs.

Thanks to new treatments, people with HIV can now hope to live healthy, normal lives, as long as they take daily antiretroviral tablets.

However, the virus remains a huge public health concern, as many do not know they have it and without treatment it can lead to debilitating damage to the immune system and life-threatening illness.

HIV infection rates have been rising steadily over the past decade, with health authorities concerned that the safe-sex message first publicised during the Aids epidemic of the 1980s was no longer getting through to a new generation.

Although some of this year’s increase was attributed to more widespread HIV testing, with the number of tests in London up 17 per cent since 2011, Public Health England said there was “anecdotal evidence from drug and alcohol clinics in London that recreational drug use amongst gay men is a growing issue.”

Concerns were raised earlier this year over increasing numbers of men smoking, snorting and injecting party drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and mephedrone, often in combination with sex parties.

David Stuart, manager of the specialist CODE clinic in Soho, run in association with the sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street, said that 99 per cent of his clients only used the drugs for sex. Emotionally vulnerable men – often HIV positive – found that they could only enjoy sex while on drugs, he said.

“There are of course lots of gay men out there who have great, long-term relationships and a great understanding of their sexuality and romantic lives. But there are an increasing number of men that are struggling with that and using drugs to manage the confusion that they’re experiencing – and that number is growing and the culture is becoming more chaotic and harmful,” he said.

The association of party drugs with gay sex has been observed in other cities, with large gay scenes such as San Francisco, Melbourne and Sydney.

The Lancet also reported a rise in gay men having sex without condoms, with anecdotal evidence of HIV negative men borrowing four days’ worth of HIV medication from HIV positive friends in order to have sex without condoms at sex parties with HIV positive men – a preventative measure that has not been proven effective.

Sexual health charities said that more needed to be done by London local authorities to provide specialist services that could advise gay men about precautions when encountering “community norms of using drugs for sex”.

“There is a need for a greater focus within London HIV prevention work on helping gay men who are encountering difficulties with drugs and safer sex and also on encouraging others to avoid these problems and resist peer pressure,” said Lisa Power, Policy Director for the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the National Aids Trust (NAT) said that, on average, five gay men in London are diagnosed with HIV every day.

“This is one of the most serious public health issues we face in the UK and it must be treated as a public health priority,” he said. “NAT recently called on London Councils to address the issue of problematic drug use amongst many gay men which is fuelling HIV transmission in the Capital. We want to see sexual health services which are better at identifying drug issues and drugs services which feel comfortable discussing the sexual context of gay men’s drug use.”

Case study: HIV is still a taboo among gay community

Ant, 35, works in marketing and lives in South-east London. He was  diagnosed with HIV six years ago      

“I do a lot of volunteering work with the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fight Aids. They have been doing work around the issue of drug taking while having sex – known as “chem-sex”. I would say it is a small sub-section of gay men involved in this culture, but there are increasing numbers.

“A lot of gay men who are involved in this scene hook up online and search for others who want to have unprotected sex and take drugs. Although I think there is awareness of HIV among the gay community, it’s still a taboo and there’s a real stigma surrounding it. A younger gay man in his 20s once told me that I didn’t look ill – so how could I have HIV?”

Ant was speaking to Emily Gorton

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

    £15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

    Day In a Page

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food