The Trump administration has declared a “War on the Opioid Epidemic,” a fight against the influx of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs that have made there way into North America and Canada.
As this “epidemic” continues to primarily affect white communities, the Black community and its 40-plus-years war on drugs continues to rage on, with no support from our federal government. Unfortunately for us, our epidemic has never ended and has now morphed into a new crisis against methamphetamines, which quietly is intersecting marginalized populations and becoming the new drug of choice, rivaling that of heroine and cocaine.
Black America’s problem with narcotics is nothing new, and unfortunately by design. It’s was the 1970s and ’80s when a surplus of cocaine made its way to North America and found its way into Black communities, destroying family dynamics and pipelining many Black men and women into the criminal justice system.
I don’t recall in my 32 years knowing a Black family that hasn’t been affected in some way by the crack epidemic. My family has buried several at the hands of the addiction, with survivors now facing serious health complications much later in life, often attributed to the years of prior drug use. The “chasing of the high” is a term you will hear, which describes peoples desire to get to the same place and feeling they were when they first got high. It often leads to overdose, or the transition to a new drug of choice to achieve that feeling.
Meth is the new Black; better yet the new crack that has found its way into Black communities without much information on the how it arrived, and its increase in the number of users over the past 10 years. A google search on this problem will only bring back a few documented instances of how bad it is becoming for Black folks in major metro areas.
A 2015 New York Times piece reported on the agency, Gay Men of African Descent, which counsels gay Black men–many of whom shared their experiences of sex binges “fueled by meth.” The number of clients who began sharing these experiences triggered GMAD’s staff to recognize that meth was moving away from being just a casual drug to becoming a part of a public health crisis. Another article titled, “Meth Comes to The Hood,” points out that while meth is traditionally considered a white drug, it appears to be “overtaking crack and powder cocaine in LA’s Black neighborhoods.”
In speaking with a member of the Blood’s, “B-Right” states “Because on crack you can smoke for a few years and bounce back but with crystal you smoke it and you are gone—no teeth, lose all your weight, it’s a bunch of zombies out here. They selling it for $3,200 a pound. Young dudes are getting rich off it.” More reports have come from places like Atlanta and DC, echoing the same sentiments of the drug with effects more powerful than anything our community has ever seen.
For more insight I spoke with friend and HIV activist, Christopher Barnhill, who candidly shared his struggles with addiction and how he functioned in society while hiding it. “I first started using meth when I was 20 years old from a person I met off the chat line. At first the meth use started as a weekend and holiday recreation which blinded me to the fact that I had a problem,” Barnhill shares. “I placed rules for myself like not buying it, only doing it with the same person, never injecting it. Within five years of using I broke every single rule and even then I didn’t realize I had a problem.” Barnhill adds that he was “too concerned about my public persona and judgement from my peers if I sought help.”
It wasn’t until suicide became an option of escape, that Barnhill knew he had to make a change. He went to rehab twice and relocated to Florida, where he was able to start doing the work to gain control of the addiction. “Using for 10 years since I was 20 meant I didn’t know my adult life without it,” he admits, and therefore “most of my sexual encounters had been tied to use of the drug.” For recovery, Barnhill knew that he would have to fully “surrender himself” to a program and take control of his mental health.
His advice, is to tell someone and seek help. Nothing more, nothing less.
Barnhill’s correlation to the drug and sex isn’t uncommon as it is often tied in the conversation around meth use and a scene known as “Party and Play” or PNP. I spoke to F. Antonio Burt, Director of Testing & Counseling at Us Helping Us People Into Living, who explains that there are two ways the drug is being used in that way. First there is the private sex party aspect in which men who have sex with men (MSM) disclose high-risk sexual and drug behaviors – to include the use of meth together in group-sex-environment and sharing of “tools.” Burt says that there are several sex party groups like this in the D.C. area that host these type of parties “quarterly.”
The second, being people who describe themselves as “massage therapists” and/or offer “massage services.” They “use meth with massage clients, charging a higher fee as opposed to clients who don’t participate in meth,” he says. Burt’s accounts directly coincides with an August report in the L.A. Weekly about the death of Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old gay Black man found dead in the West Hollywood apartment of a prominent Democratic Party Donor.
The case was initially ruled a meth overdose, but there was more to the story. As journalists began to investigate, it was found that Ed Buck (the Donor) was known for picking up young gay Black men, providing them with meth and using them for sexual favors. The case has now been ruled a homicide and is being further investigated, with many comparisons to the Harvey Weinstein case in how power and wealth play a role in controlling of one’s sexual agency.
The need to write this piece is more apparent than ever, as white epidemics continue to drown out Black epidemics in the headlines, which limit our resources and education needed for us to combat these problems, which have plagued us for so long.
Personally, my life has been affected by this drug as well. For anonymity I’ll use the name Jay. Jay and I have been friends for over 10 years. He has been at every birthday and major milestone in my life. That all changed about 18 months ago.
The signs were all there, but unfortunately, the education on what to look for was not. It was August of 2016 when I last had dinner with Jay. It was a good dinner, but there was some noticeable weight loss, which Jay attributed to diet and exercise. We left like it was all good, but little did I know it wasn’t. Jay later missed a yearly get together among our group of friends, and then my birthday for the first time in 10 years. Then Thanksgiving and Christmas, and before I knew it I hadn’t seen Jay in four months. We would, however, text all the time. The promises of “I miss you” and “I can’t wait to see you” were only met with cancellations. Then other friends started calling me saying, “when was the last time you seen Jay?”
Then Jay missed another close friend’s birthday and we knew something was wrong. Texts eventually became infrequent, full of typos and misspellings. After eight months, my friends and I were able to trick Jay into coming out to see us. The purple blemishes were starting to show on his face and I already knew what was up, and it just continued to spiral downhill. Jay’s personal life has become one of a recluse nature, and our relationship has forever been damaged.
When I do text Jay, it can be days before response, until I finally send the “are you alive” text for which he always responds. I’m usually talking to the drugs that have inhabited the mind that used to be, so the conversations remain short in text. I often mourn for the friendship and find myself grieving for a person who is still very much alive, but not the same.
My fear is of the day that I send the “are you alive” text and there is no response.
It is more necessary than ever for us to continue to speak on problems that exist, but often go under the radar until it is far too late. In the words of my grandmother “if you see something, say something” has to become the approach we take when protecting the lives of our brothers and sisters who are being taken daily by this new addiction. Meth is here, and if we don’t begin to address the problem, our community will continue to be destroyed, one “hit” at a time.
George M. Johnson is the Managing Editor of BroadwayBlack.com. He has written for Ebony, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.