Talking About Tina

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icebergThe Ice Age is coming! You’ve likely heard it on the news, seen it on the television, cinemas and on social media: the ice epidemic is here.

If there’s one thing that is a fact: media-fuelled panics are not new in history. Like other media coverage of illicit drug use and diseases—from Chinese opium dens in Britain during the 19th century, marijuana smoking in the 60s, the Grim Reaper ad of the 80s and now, the Ice ads of 2015—its aim is to construct people who are affected by these issues with the notion of ‘otherness’.

It does nothing but divide a society, distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them’ and reinforcing cultural fears constructing people who uses drugs or suffering from a communicable disease as ‘the enemy within[1]’.

For those that have not met her yet, let me introduce you to Tina:

Crystal methamphetamine (ice) aka Tina is a synthetic drug that stimulates the central nervous system. It was developed in the 1930s and was widely prescribed in the 1960s and 70s as medication for depression and obesity. Common positive effects are: feeling more awake or alert, increased energy or sociability and an increased sex drive; on the other hand, negative side effects are: fatigue, anhedonia (i.e., the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable), depression, paranoia and hypersomnia[2].

Despite having a federal policy on illicit drug use that is meant to focus on harm-minimisation strategies, the constant proliferation of ads only demonises and stigmatises people who use crystal-meth (ice) with tag-lines like: “Ice destroys lives; don’t let it destroy yours”[3]. These tag-lines do not make it easy for people who are struggling from drug use to reach out and ask for support. The commonality between stigmatising people for their drug use is not dissimilar to the stigma towards people living with HIV. For some people living with HIV who use ice, this increased stigmatisation can be quite confronting, leading to disengagement from service providers and community.

Although most of the media spectacle around ice-use is focused on how it is affecting the regional areas of this country, one important discussion that this fails to talk about is how Tina—is being used differently in queer/LGBTIQ and HIV-positive community.

A study conducted in 2013 looking at methamphetamine use among older Australian HIV-positive and negative gay men by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, found that crystal-meth use was considerably more prevalent among HIV-positive (24%) compared with HIV-negative men (11%), with methamphetamine-use appearing to be greater among gay men that in the general population[4].

One important thing that we need to acknowledge is that the relationship between methamphetamine use and HIV is not fully understood; different people have different motivations of use and understanding this issue can be quite complex. Some people use it to socialise in different circles, while others use it to disengage themselves from reality.

One thing you have to be mindful of, when you’re living with HIV and using Tina, is how it interacts with different drugs. Different drugs have different effects depending on what drug combinations are you on. These interactions can increase or decrease the effectiveness of your HIV meds, as well as other prescription or non-prescription drugs you take.

If you are using Tina and are not sure of how this interacts with your medication, please make sure that you talk about this with your doctor. You can also speak to the Health Promotion and Treatments Officer from Queensland Positive People on 07 3013 5555 or (tollfree) 1800 636 241.

To open the discussion on crystal-meth use, The Institute of Many (TIM), a peer-run community of people living with HIV, recently published a groundbreaking harm-reduction resource for gay, bi, trans men living with HIV who use crystal methamphetamine AKA Tina titled Turning Tina.

To anyone who may be in need of the resource or just plain curious, it is available on TIM’s website: www.theinstituteofmany.org.

Another great resource can be found at: www.touchbase.org.au. This is where you can look at how different drugs interact, along with other information on looking after your sexual health and mental health.

If you know of anyone or need some extra support yourself, the Queensland Injectors Health Network (QuIHN) can be contacted on 1800 172 076 or the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Information service (24/7) on 1800 177 833. Both of these services offer information, advice, referral, intake, assessment and support.

Please look after yourself. We care for you.

[1] Ayres, T. & Jewkes, Y., 2012, “The haunting spectacle of crystal meth: a media created mythology?”, Crime Media Culture, vol. 8, no.3, pp. 315-332.

[2] Saltman, D. et al., 2008, “Experiences in managing problematic crystal methamphetamine use and associated depression in men and HIV positive men: in-depth interviews with general practitioners in Sydney, Australia,” BMC Family Practice, no.9, p.45

[3] Australian Government, “Ice Destroys Lives”, National Drugs Campaign, viewed 4 Dec, 2015: http://www.drugs.health.gov.au/internet/drugs/publishingcp.nsf/content/home

[4] Rawstrone, P. et al., 2007, “Associations between crystal methamphetamine use and potentially unsafe sexual activity among gay men in Australia,” Arch Sex Behav, vol. 36, no.5, pp. 646-54.