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Fighting meth-fueled 'chemsex' in the LGBTQ community, West Hollywood takes a stand

Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of town hall meeting that could, perhaps, only be held in West Hollywood.

"We're going to talk about sex," City Councilman John Duran warned the crowd, feigning surprise.

Behind the scenes a few minutes earlier, one of the panelists, a drag queen in a sparkling halter top, had asked him how much swearing was appropriate, given the topic. (Try to avoid F-bombs, Duran advised.)

But what they were talking about, in such a colorful way, could not be more serious.

The topic at the packed town hall Wednesday night was a growing crisis, especially in the LGBTQ community, that health experts say is not talked about enough: "chemsex," or using drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA to enhance sexual activity and lower inhibitions.

Also called "party and play," chemsex has become pervasive on online dating apps like Adam4Adam, Scruff and Grindr, where people use constantly changing code words and emojis to show they want to use or buy drugs and have sex, said Jimmy Palmieri, founder of the Tweakers Project, a support group for people struggling with crystal meth addiction.

 

"I don't think there's anyone in West Hollywood that hasn't been touched, somehow, some way, by meth," Palmieri said.

In West Hollywood, methamphetamine was involved in 47 deaths between 2015 and 2018, and meth-related hospitalizations have steadily ticked upward for the last decade, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The event follows the overdose deaths of two black gay men in the West Hollywood apartment of Democratic donor Ed Buck, who was accused last fall of injecting fatal doses of crystal methamphetamine into victims for his own sexual gratification.

"For far too long, I think, meth has been overlooked as a public health crisis," said Dr. Lello Tesema, an associate medical director at the L.A. County Department of Public Health Division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.

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