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Europe’s first rehab center opens for LGBTI people with chemsex issues

Europe’s first rehab center opens for LGBTI people with chemsex issues

The Chemsex panel: Stewart Who?, Mitch Marrion, Michelle Thomber-Dunwell, Leon Lopez and Fat Tony

A long-running UK-based substance abuse rehab facility has launched program aimed at helping LGBTI people with chemsex-related addictions and issues.

Its existence was revealed yesterday by London scene DJ Fat Tony, who took part in a panel discussion on chemsex at the Digital Pride festival in London.

The panel and audience watched a screening of a new short film, G O’clock, and then took part in a discussion led by the DJ and writer Stewart Who?

Tony said that the film, to his eyes, accurately depicted one of the regular chemsex party or ‘chill outs’ that took place behind closed doors on the London gay scene.

Chemsex is the name give to gatherings where two or more people – typically gay men – get together to take drugs such as GHB or crystal meth and engage in sexual activity with one another.

LGBTI advocates and health authorities are concerned about the health risks associated with the rise in popularity of chemsex: it is very easy to overdose on drugs such as GHB, and users often engage in risky sexual practices, leading them open to HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.

‘I used every day towards the end. Even when I was asleep’

Tony (real name Reggie Taylor) spoke about his own problems with drugs, saying that he was a user for almost 30 years, and spent much of that time in denial about having a problem. Asked by Who? what had prompted him to seek help, he said he replied: ‘Realizing I would die.’

High in drugs, he said he’d once pulled his own teeth out – and still refused to admit that he had a problem: ‘I still thought I looked great.’

‘I used every day towards the end. Even when I was asleep I was on some sort of benzo [benzodiazepine]’

His moment of clarity led him to speak to a doctor.

‘He put me in touch with a care manager and within three months I was in rehab.’

That was ten years ago, when he found help via a South Coast-based rehab service called StreetScene. He has been clean since that time and has become a passionate advocate for drug rehab programs and speaking out against GHB and the dangers of the chemsex phenomenon.

He said that his advocacy work had led his former rehab program to contact him to see if he and health professionals that he has worked with would offer advice on creating a dedicated treatment facility aimed at helping gay people with chemsex problems.

Speaking on why gay people might need a dedicated facility, he said that many rehab groups might contain a large number of straight people. In that environment, he suggested it might be difficult for a gay man to be truly open to ‘a bunch of straight blokes’ and admit, ‘I had 14 cocks in me this weekend.’

‘What we’re trying to do is create a safe haven’

Speaking to Gay Star News after the discussion, Tony said that the center – which he says is the first such rehab program in Europe – was part of the Allington House project in Bournemouth, run by StreetScene. The chemsex program first opened around three weeks ago, and already had two full-time residents.

He was keen to point out that it wasn’t just a program for gay men, saying that chemsex drugs were also an issue for others in the LGBTI community – highlighting trans sex workers, who all too often found themselves being referred to mental health services rather than drug rehab programs.

‘What we’re trying to do is create a safe haven, a one-stop shop that deals with everybody within our community, which has not done before.’

Tessa Corner, CEO of the charity StreetScene, confirmed details of the program in a phone call to Gay Star News.

‘It’s true, although it’s not a dedicated facility at the moment because we work with all forms of addiction. At the moment, at Allington, we have two chemsex residents, but we have clients with all sorts of addiction. You can’t just have two clients because two people doesn’t make a group, if that makes sense. But we are the only people working in this area. It’s a pilot scheme. We’re certainly the only place in the UK targeting this, and the UK is usually ahead of Europe with regards to treatment.

‘It’s still all very new, but we’re looking at it as a triapartite addiction – it’s a chemical addiction, a sex addiction, and a digital addiction, because there’s an element around smartphones and stuff like that which plays a crucial role in it. We have a complete treatment program that works with this.

‘The problem is that although there’s a lot of chemsex out there, local authorities don’t work with it or recognize it, and don’t really offer any routes into treatment for it.’

Alongside Tony on the Digital Pride panel, which took place at the Heaven nightclub, were the film’s director, Mitch Marion, former EastEnders actor Leon Lopez, who features in the film, and Lambeth businesswoman Michelle Thomber-Dunwell.

Marion spoke about his reasons for making the film, saying that he had lost friends to drugs while others had felt the need to move away from London.

Lopez said that he hadn’t felt awkward about the explicit nature of the film, or being naked for his role, as he believed it was for a good cause. Gay himself, he said ‘the issue of drugs on the gay scene has got so out of hand, it’s better to start a conversation.’

Thomber-Dunwell runs a beauty salon in Lambeth, and said that she used to go out clubbing with gay friends on the local scene, but this had slowly ended as more and more of her friends turned to chemsex parties instead. Often she had found herself having to call ambulances for drug casualties who turned up at her salon seeking help.

Last month, a well-known London barrister opened up about his use of chemsex drugs and the subsequent death of his 18-year-old boyfriend from an overdose. The barrister is currently awaiting sentencing for purchasing the drugs responsible for his partner’s death.

Launched by Gay Star News, Digital Pride is a global event that aims to help people celebrate LGBTI Pride wherever they are in the world – even if they are in countries where they are now forbidden from holding public Pride festivals.

It culminated with a one-day event yesterday at Heaven in Charing Cross which featured panel discussions on Brexit (featuring Labour MEP Seb Dance), lesbian visibility, trans issues and the criminalization of homosexuality in countries such as Nigeria and Egypt.