Toronto Health Experts Question Link Between Crystal Meth Use, HIV Transmission
HIV/AIDS agencies and health officials in Toronto say they are not certain there is a link between crystal methamphetamine use and HIV transmission, drawing criticism from their U.S. counterparts who say there is evidence that the drug makes people more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, the Toronto Star reports. Toronto Associate Medical Officer of Health Rita Shahin said it is too early to tie use of the drug to the city's HIV rate. Although the number of newly reported HIV cases in Toronto increased by about 50% to 614 in 2002, the number of new cases dropped slightly to 563 in 2004. "The jury is still out as to whether crystal meth is leading to riskier behavior than other drugs," Shahin said. John Maxwell of the AIDS Committee of Toronto said research conducted in Vancouver, Canada, showed young men who have sex with men and who used crystal meth were no more likely to have risky sex than MSM who used other drugs. "There's not been enough studies of crystal use among gay men" to definitively link the drug's use to HIV transmission, Maxwell said, adding, "Maybe we're being overly cautious, but we want to make sure we know what's going on in our city." As a result, Toronto has not launched any major awareness campaigns about crystal meth use increasing the risk of HIV transmission, the Star reports. Nick Boyce, ACT's harm reduction coordinator, said some MSM might use meth at parties to boost their confidence or to cope with depression, but frightening them with "aggressive" prevention messages is unproductive, according to the Star. "It just stigmatizes people and makes it harder to have an honest discussion about it," he said.
Jeffrey Klausner, director of sexually transmitted disease prevention and control for San Francisco's Department of Public Health, said that Toronto health officials who doubt the connection between crystal meth use and HIV transmission are just "burying their heads in the sand," adding, "They need to just look around to every major urban area in the U.S., from San Francisco to Atlanta to Miami to Los Angeles and the direct effects meth has had on continued transmission of HIV. I think it's extremely unlikely Toronto would be shielded from those effects." Greg Downer, a former volunteer for ACT and recovering meth user, agreed, saying he would like Toronto to launch aggressive advertising campaigns similar to those in some U.S. cities. "In a few years, I don't want us to say, 'Why didn't we do more?'" Downer said (Chung, Toronto Star, 7/7).