"People don't even realize they're doing fentanyl," Duran said. "We're seeing a lot of people in our community who just thought they were going to party and not waking up the next day.
"When you throw in sexuality, oppression, shame, stigma, HIV, meth and then add fentanyl in the mix, it's a deadly combination."
The town hall panelists said that one of the tragedies of chemsex is that it often stems from loneliness and LGBTQ people's shame around their sexuality or gender identity. Tesema said that in a world increasingly connected by technology, "we're in a crisis of loneliness."
The questions from the audience reflected that: "Can you talk about how this ties in with mental health and self-esteem and suicide prevention?" "How can I get people to rally around this issue?"
Melissa McCracken, a chemsex counselor for Breathe Life Healing Center in West Hollywood, said people "lose self intimacy" when in the throes of drug addiction and that meth use "disables empathy, which is one of the tragic casualties."
"Giving yourself the space and the time to actually connect with another person is difficult, but it's not impossible," she said.
Tesema noted that people often become depressed when they relapse after trying to stop using meth, even though relapse is "not only common but an expected process in recovery."
In the lobby afterward, where naloxone and fenantyl-testing strips were being handed out, a 31-year-old man said the town hall was a nice change of pace from the crystal meth and alcohol addiction recovery meetings he attends.
The man, who asked that his name not be used because he was in recovery, said he works as a property manager for a 187-unit building in Westwood and has had to call authorities twice recently because of tenants overdosing on heroin.
Sobriety meetings are peer-to-peer, he said. Seeing issues like chemsex and meth use be discussed bluntly by experts, in a city council chamber, gave him hope that they would get more attention, he said.
"To see that the city is behind it is amazing," he said. "It elevates it, for sure."
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