A new study says drug support services need to reflect the way drug use has changed in the UK.
The six-month study from Manchester Metropolitan University says services need to reflect how some people using drugs for sex (a practice known as chemsex), are now ‘routinely injecting drugs.’
Furthermore, it shows that previously popular party drugs such as ecstasy have fallen out of fashion. There is now a rising use of the ‘holy trinity’ of chemsex drugs. The study particularly highlights a rise in crystal meth and mephedrone.
With all this in mind, the study concludes that drug services need to change their approach to treatment and support.
Dr Paul Gray, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan, says:
‘Users of drug services have outdated views that they are solely places for heroin and crack cocaine users. It shows drug services need to publicise what that they offer better.’
The change in drug use coincides with the growth of popularity of New Psychoactive Substances. These are drugs made in illegal labs which are often slight chemical variations of other drugs. The UK recently clamped down on them by introducing a ban on all legal highs.
But the study also finds some homeless drug users are now less likely to have an alcohol dependency. Converesely, there has been a rise in the smoking of synthetic cannabinoids known as Spice.
At the same time, men who participate in the ‘party and play’ scene – once associated with party drugs like ecstasy – are now ‘slamming’ (injecting) crystal methamphetamine and mephedrone.
Treatment needs to consider rise in chemsex
The study spoke to 53 people who use drugs and 31 staff from a range of organizations. They include drug and alcohol treatment services, the police, homeless day centers and sexual health services.
The criminologists who wrote the study say services need to change to reflect a ‘significant shift in the use of drugs in the UK.’
Dr Rob Ralphs, at Manchester Metropolitan University, says people who have chemsex don’t know where to ask for help.
‘Perhaps most concerning, they have out of date views about who treatment services are for and what services they offer.’
But he says the gay and bi men interviewed say the stigma of chemsex is one reason preventing them from asking for help from drug services traditionally associated with heroin users.
David Stuart, a sexual health expert at London’s 56 Dean Street, writing for Gay Star News, says ‘anyone who engages in chemsex deserves the full support and compassion of their entire community.’
Moreover, Dr Ralphs’ study reaches a similar conclusion:
‘Drug users should get holistic treatment. They also need services to work more closely with mental health, sexual health, supported housing and homeless services.’
However, his study says men who have sex with men and use drugs need their psychosocial interventions to be prioritized.
Calling for longer opening hours for services, pop-ups in key locations and outreach strategies, the study says it’s time to take these messages directly to gay saunas, fetish clubs and online.