The use of illegal crystal methamphetamine is increasing in Israel, especially among the gay community, and the health care system and the Health Ministry fear a wave of addiction is in the offing.
According to health system sources, in recent months there has been a rise in the use of the drug on the “chemsex” scene, characterized by the use of hard drugs during sexual encounters, and in some cases at parties.
Concern about the growing use of the drug among the LGBT community in Israel has been raised several times in the past two years, including at Knesset committee hearings that addressed the issue. Over the past two months, however, health officials say they’ve seen signs that these fears are being actualized, as crystal meth is now the drug of choice on the chemsex scene, which until recently relied on drugs such as ketamine, methadone and gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, known as GHB, a so-called “date rape” drug. Contributing to the surge in the use of crystal meth is that it’s particularly addictive — three times more addictive than cocaine.
“The problem is much bigger than what has been presented so far,” said Dr. Roy Zucker of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and the Gan Meir LGBT health clinic in Tel Aviv. “We are seeing a sharp shift from GHB and ketamine to crystal meth, especially among young people.” He thinks there are several reasons for the current rise in the use of crystal meth. “It seems to be related the fact that recently it’s been very difficult to obtain GHB, because the police are investing resources to confiscate the date rape drug,” he said.
Crystal meth is generally smoked, but can also be inhaled or injected. It increases levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain and creates a sense of euphoria, alertness, high self-confidence and increased libido, which can last for 15 hours or more. “People like this drug very much because it gives self-confidence and is sexually arousing, but it’s a terrible drug,” Zucker said.
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The Health Ministry’s Addiction Treatment Department doesn’t have official figures, but according to the department’s director, Dr. Paula Rosca, reports from the field indicate a rise in use. “We are getting reports on the wider use of crystal and it seems that a major phenomenon in London, New York and Berlin is reaching Tel Aviv,” she said. “Many young people who start with this are not aware of the hard addictive properties of this drug and think: ‘If it’s hard to get Gina, we’ll use Tina, what’s the difference?’” she says, referring to nicknames for GHB and crystal meth, respectively.
At a February hearing in the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse, the issue of drug use in the LGBT community was discussed. According to data presented by the LGBT Medicine Society, part of the Israel Medical Association, the incidence of illegal drug use in the LGBT community is more than twice that of the general population; among LGBT women the likelihood of drug use is 40 percent greater than in the overall population. Among LGBT men, the risk of using amphetamines like crystal meth is three and a half times higher than in the general population, while the use of heroin is 10 times more likely.
“We are seeing the use of crystal meth resulting in all forms of symptoms of addiction to the drug, and on this background we are also seeing a rise in sexually transmitted diseases,” said Dr. Gal Wagner, director of the Gan Meir clinic. “It’s one of the strongest sex drugs there is and it affects daily life. We are hearing about it more and more lately. Only a few uses suck people into the cycle of hard addiction.”
“In recent years we are witness to a significant increase in the use of drugs in the gay community, which has clear ramifications for the infection rate for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” the AIDS Task Force said. “We believe that this is a unique social phenomenon that requires the involvement of the state authorities, including the allocation of resources and damage control, the training of therapists and the conduct of thorough research.”