Two-thirds of young US gay men use drugs says study, amid alarm that HIV research under threat

Michael Carter, Michael Carter
Published: 04 November 2003

Recreational drugs are used by two-thirds of young American gay men, according to a study published in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health. Investigators involved in the study described the findings as “disturbing” particularly as the use of illegal drugs by gay men has repeatedly been found to be associated with high risk sexual behaviour.

This is the first study to examine the prevalence of drug taking amongst young gay men, and was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control. However, it could be the last. The publication of the study comes amid reports that 157 government funded investigators examining issues such as HIV, drug use, and sexuality are on a Republican Party “hit list” to have their funding cut because some members of the US Congress find their work “offensive.”

The drug use study involved a total of 3,493 gay men, aged between 15 and 22, who were recruited to the study between 1994 and 1998 in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. They were asked how often they used drugs, which drugs they used, and if they had ever injected drugs.

A third of men said they used drugs weekly or more often, with cannabis the most commonly used drug. However, 66% of men said they had used an illegal drug in the six months before completing the study questionnaire. Injecting drugs were used by 4% of men recruited to the study.

Men having sex with other men who nevertheless described themselves as heterosexual or bisexual were found to be more likely to than men identifying as gay to use inject drugs or take multiple drugs. Men who had been subjected to sexual violence, or had run away from home, were also more likely to use multiple drugs or inject drugs.

"The high prevalence of drug use among the young men who have sex with men in our study is disturbing” said study author Hanne Thiede of Seattle Public Health, adding “illicit drug use has been repeatedly associated with high-risk sexual behaviours and increased HIV incidence among men who have sex with men.”

The future of such research may, however, be under threat, as the US government is reported to have a list of 157 investigators believed by many in the HIV community to be a “hit-list” for funding withdrawal or review because some religious conservatives in the US Congress find their work “offensive.” Included in the list are investigators working on HIV epidemiology, sexuality, and drug use at leading US research centres including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, San Francisco.

Programme officers at the National Institutes of Health, which provides government funding for medical research, is reported to have written to investigators asking them for brief descriptions of “the public benefit” of their work. These projects, in most cases, already have approved funding.

A “general feeling…of fear and intimidation” is present amongst HIV researchers said UCLA professor Tom Coates, whose name is included on the list.

Republican Congress members have challenged ten National Institutes of Health research grants in recent years and at congressional hearings in early October asked the National Institutes of Health for details of these ten projects. Instead of providing the requested information, details were provided on 157 government-funded scientists. This list came from the conservative Family Values Coalition.

Commenting to the Associated Press, Andrea Lafferty of the right-wing coalition said research conducted by the 157 investigators was a “total abuse of tax….dollars, adding “millions and millions of dollars have been flushed down the toilet…on this HIV, AIDS scam..”

Democrat politicians have voiced concerns about the list of investigators, with one member of Congress describing the National Institute of Health’s actions as “scientific McCarthyism.”


Thiede H et al. Regional patterns and correlates of substance use among young men who have sex with men in 7 US urban areas. American Journal of Public Health 93 (published November 4th), 2003

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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