By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
Ed Mulak looks pretty much like an average, healthy gay man. Granted he hasn’t been able to find a job – but Michigan’s economy is rocky even for people who aren’t on probation.
The 23-year-old’s gums have stopped bleeding, he’s no longer paranoid and he doesn’t start his days with a hit on a meth pipe anymore. He has even gained back the weight he lost during two years’ using crystal meth, and no longer looks like a scarecrow.
Despite the fact that he’s broke, doesn’t have a car and is living with a friend, Mulak’s life isn’t as bad as it could be by now.
Mulak is one of the lucky ones. To get a better look at the damage meth can do, ask John Leone about his cousin. Or about the man in his crystal meth support group who died this month.
Leone, a clinical psychologist, facilitates the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project’s weekly support group for men struggling to beat their addiction to crystal meth. According to Leone, it only took crystal meth six months to turn his successful, engineer cousin into just another corpse at a drug house.
Chasing the rush
“Speed,” “meth,” “crystal,” “Tina.”
These are some of the many names of methamphetamine, an addictive stimulant drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth users take the drug because it induces either a “rush” or a “flash” when smoked, or a somewhat longer-lasting feeling of euphoria when snorted or taken orally. As Mulak said of his first experience with the drug, meth “definitely made me not tired anymore.”
Whether or not users feel it right away, though, meth makes the human body very, very tired. Methamphatamine, according to NIDA, damages the central nervous system and can lead to symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. The drug damages the brain’s neurons and blood vessels and puts users at high risk of strokes, respiratory problems and extreme anorexia.
And, as it did to John Leone’s 38-year-old cousin, it can stop a beating heart cold.
Popular party drug
For Mulak, who said he began using crystal meth when he was 20, it all started with a yawn.
“I had been up all the day before working and I went down to the State Fairgrounds for the Motorball event after work,” he said. “After that I went to an after-party and someone saw me yawn and said, ‘You should try this! It’ll wake you up,’ and it was meth.”
According to Leone, who specializes in treating patients with sexual addiction issues, meth is a popular party drug because it’s available and cheap.
“If you’re out at a club dancing,” Leone said, “probably three out of the four people around you either have it or are with someone else who does.”
According to Craig Covey, CEO of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project in Ferndale, there is no recent data on meth use in Michigan’s LGBT community. Covey said that a survey done two years ago showed that 9 percent of gay men statewide had used meth at least once – double the number from the same survey in 1997.
Another reason for meth’s popularity is that it decreases sexual inhibition while it “opens up a lot of doors and fantasies,” Leone said.
Any addiction alone is obviously very complicated. But when drug addiction is so closely intertwined with sexual addiction, “it’s a very, very volatile combination,” Leone said.
Users feel the sky is the limit, Leone said, while they’re using meth.
The reality, however, isn’t at all sexy. According to Covey, use of the drug can cause impotence in men even as it increases their desire.
Mulak seemed to have trouble talking about his own crystal meth journey in first-person terms. As he spoke he seemed detached, and related his experiences as though they had happened to someone else.
After losing his job as a police dispatcher for reasons that he said had nothing to do with his drug use, Mulak was soon turning to meth as a normal part of his daily routine.
Without a regular job to go to, “eventually I got to the point where I was staying at my drug dealer’s house,” Mulak said. As for the drug, “I would actually sleep on it, then wake up in the morning, hit the pipe, get high, and then go on with my day.”
During this time, Mulak dropped down to 98 pounds, his gums began bleeding, and he became paranoid and temperamental. He also became increasingly insistent about getting his meth every day.
“If the drug wasn’t available I would start looking for it in other places. If my regular dealer didn’t have it I would start calling my friends up to get it from other sources,” he said.
Back on track
Mulak’s affair with crystal meth began to come to an end when he was busted at his dealer’s house last summer. Mulak had already lost contact with his family after stealing his mother’s credit card number to charge porn online.
Despite that loss, and a pending sentencing for drug possession, Mulak gave Tina one more whirl in December 2005.
“December came around and it was my birthday month, … and for that month I got high,” he said.
At that point, two things turned him off permanently to using meth – missing his family and watching the man he was dating take a stupid risk with his future.
“It was the first holiday season I ever had in my entire life where I didn’t get to see them [his family] because I was continuing to be high,” Mulak said.
In addition, Mulak’s boyfriend continued using despite being on probation for a traffic charge, and facing a drug test and court appearance that could put him back in jail.
“I was like – if that’s not anything that’s going to snap you out of it I don’t know, really, what is,” he said.
Since then, Mulak, who was sentenced to 18 months’ probation in February for the drug possession charge, has been clean of crystal meth.
“Most times if there was ever the inclination to use again, … it was immediately dashed away by thinking, ‘Well, do you really want to go back to that?'” Mulak said. “‘Do you really want to go back to being stuck in someone’s basement, … having sex … watching porn and being down there and not realizing that three days have gone by?’
“I’m thinking I don’t want to do that. … I’ve got most of my life back on track [and] I don’t ever want to go back to that.”
Party and play
Mulak is, indeed, lucky. For one thing, he’s alive.
And, thanks to his days working for the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, Mulak successfully practiced safe sex even while on meth and avoided becoming infected with HIV.
However, as for the people Mulak knew while he was using, “safer sex was definitely not practiced … and there was always risky behavior,” which could easily increase the risk of HIV infection. Mulak said he personally knew meth users who were also HIV positive.
Covey said since the drug often causes impotence, “men using meth often ‘bottom’ with many partners, thus engaging in the absolute highest-risk sex.”
Meth users in many surveys show HIV and other sexually transmitted disease rates that are two to three times’ higher than those of non-meth users, both gay and straight, Covey added.
Mulak decided to share his story with the wider LGBT community as a warning. “You think you are in control of this drug,” he said. “You almost always think you’re in total control of this drug from the first hit to the almost last. But it controls you from the first hit to the last hit. This drug is insanely powerful but you don’t realize it. You don’t feel it. Don’t, ever, think that you can control this drug.”