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Fighting HIV and addiction…together

By | 2018-01-15T17:47:15-05:00 March 6th, 2008|Uncategorized|

by Jessica Carreras

Several weeks ago, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman was both vilified and applauded for identifying the concern of HIV as a “gay disease,” stating that the LGBT community must do their part to help stop it. But Dr. Calvin Trent has a slightly different opinion.
“I’m African-American and live in a city that’s 43 percent African-American,” he says. “We have the same basic rate of homosexuality as any other group, but we have more HIV. For us, I would say that HIV is a black problem or a Hispanic problem.”
Moreover, he believes that HIV and drug use are “inextricably linked.” Trent is director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Prevention at the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, a unique program that combines the issues of HIV/AIDS and drug use and abuse, addressing them both simultaneously. “We can better address the issue of HIV if it’s linked to substance abuse,” he explains, adding that having HIV services available alongside substance abuse services makes prevention and treatment easier on those who are affected by either.
And now, plans are in the works to take their treatment overseas. Within the next month or two, Trent and a team of other health professionals will travel to Tanzania and Zanzibar to assist and counsel their governments on controlling drug abuse and quelling HIV rates. The trip, which is paid for by the Center for Disease Control, is part of President Bush’s emergency initiative to address rising HIV rates around the world. This epidemic comes in conjunction with a rise of drug use among youth in certain areas of Africa
The DHWP’s primary concern, however, is HIV and drug use in Detroit and the six surrounding counties, including Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. “It’s my job to see that we address these issues and reduce the incidences and prevalence of HIV and substance abuse in our community,” Trent emphasizes. “That’s our first concern.”
Their ways of accomplishing this are numerous, and include street outreach, drug addiction programs, HIV health care and counseling. Workers in the project Helping Hands, for example, go out and find homeless people in metro Detroit and bring them in to the facilities to get help with their problems, which often includes drug addiction and being HIV positive.
Another program, project Fresh Start, helps sex workers to better their lives by transitioning them into productive, healthy members of society.
A substantial number of the people who are drug addicts and HIV positive, as well as many sex workers and the homeless, are also part of the LGBT community. Many teens who are kicked out of their homes, bullied at school or unaccepted by their families because of their sexuality turn to drug use and risky sexual behavior, which can lead to HIV. “The LGBT community isn’t more prone to addiction or prostitution, but sometimes the stresses of rejection open up avenues for them to self-medicate on drugs,” Trent says. “It’s not because of who they are, but the larger pressures society puts on them.”
As a result, the DHWP and Trent have developed programming specifically directed at gay and bisexual men. This includes educating them on drug addiction and safe sex, as well as treating those who are already addicts or HIV positive. Trent hopes that in the near future, the LGBT community will work with him and his team to create even better programs. “We want the LGBT community to know that we’re here for them, and we want to be a part of the community,” he stresses. “We want to be your partner in good health.”
Besides prevention and rehabilitation programs, Trent explains that one of the main endeavors of the Substance Abuse Prevention program is to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV and substance abuse. On March 17-20, they will have a conference with the community, as well as local churches, to try to educate on HIV and substance abuse. It will feature Dr. Renee McCoy, who is the director of the HIV/AIDS program at the DHWP. The conference, they hope, will help the larger community to better understand the problems of those who suffer from drug addiction and HIV.
Aside from that, Trent hopes to begin addressing the negative feelings between different at-risk groups, including African-Americans and the LGBT community. One thing both Foreman and Trent do agree on is that people need to stop pointing fingers and start working together. With their programming, the DHWP is taking the first steps toward doing just that. “Whether it’s because they were a substance abuser, gay or lesbian, or whether they got with somebody who had HIV, we have to accept them as ours,” he says. “We all need to work together… . You can only prevent something if you recognize it for what it is.”

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.