'Chemsex': Health experts on dangers

chemex death hendron orig_00001628
chemex death hendron orig_00001628

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    A tragic tale of sex and drugs

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Story highlights

  • Lawyer sentenced after supplying drugs which killed boyfriend, warns of 'chemsex' risks
  • Health experts discuss changes in gay chemsex scene, dangers of new drugs

(CNN)A top lawyer who has been sentenced to 140 hours community service after admitting to supplying drugs to his boyfriend, has spoken of the dangers of "chemsex."

Henry Hendron, a 35-year-old London barrister says his "world came crumbling down" after supplying his 18-year-old Colombian boyfriend Miguel Jimenez with a cocktail of drugs which he overdosed on.
    In January last year, Hendron says he gave Jimenez GHB (commonly known as "G") and mephedrone (also known as "meow-meow"). In the morning, Hendron woke to find Jimenez dead in the bed beside him.
    In the past, the couple who had been dating for one year, would take these drugs together during group sex sessions -- called "chemsex" or "party and play" in the U.S., according to Hendron.
    These drugs, along with crystal meth, have become associated with chemsex due to their ability to induce heightened arousal, sexual stamina, and reduce inhibition.
    Miguel Jimenez and Henry Hendron.

    New kind of gay chemsex scene

    The emergence of these drugs over the last decade, combined with the rise of geo-targeted networking apps, has created a new kind of gay chemsex scene, say health experts.
    "On a chemical level, these three drugs (GHB, mephodrone, crystal meth) have this sexually arousing property that cocaine and ecstasy didn't have," explained Dr Adam Bourne, a lecturer and researcher in chemsex at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
    "Lots of people, particularly if they're using crystal meth, will describe quite an insatiable sexual appetite."
    He says GHB (also known as G) is "the most troubling" of these drugs, as it's particularly easy to overdose on, and potentially lethal when mixed with alcohol -- much as Jimenez did on the night he died.
    "It's very common that you vomit a lot when taking G with alcohol, and there are cases where people choke to death on their own vomit," Bourne added.
    "If you take too much G you go into what's commonly called a 'G sleep,' which is a state of unconsciousness. And again, one of the most common ways of dying is by choking when you're in that state."
    When in a state of euphoria, it's also difficult to keep track of doses. Bourne said that in some cases chemsex organizers pin up spreadsheets on the wall for people to track their intake.

    Sexual highs and lows

    With lowered inhibition, and an increase in sexual partners, also comes the risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
    "Users of these drugs can feel invulnerable to harm, supremely confident, dismissive of consequences, sexually adventurous, experience a heightened sense of pleasure, and can possess a stamina and endurance that may keep them awake for many days," said David Stuart, Substance Abuse Lead at London sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street.
    "When used in sexual contexts, this can translate into a reduced concern for safer sex practices and contact with a higher number of partners."
    Around 3,000 gay men visiting the Dean Street clinic each month are using GHB, crystal meth, and mephedrone.
    The clinic diagnoses between 20 and 30 gay men who are regular users of these drugs, with HIV each month.
    The center estimates that it also prevents between 200 and 300 gay men from contracting HIV from chemsex each month, by prescribing PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) -- a medicine which if taken within three days of interaction can prevent the infection taking hold.
    There are no reliable figures available on the number of gay men engaging in chemsex, or the number of deaths resulting from it. Though Bourne says it's "a big problem, among a relatively small number of people."
    "Not all gay men use drugs. And not all gay men who use drugs engage in chemsex. And not all gay men who engage in chemsex engage in risky things," he added.
    A report in the British Medical Journal last year warned that chemsex needed to become a "public health priority," and suggested there were deep psychological reasons why some gay men took part.
    "Some are using these drugs to manage negative feelings, such as a lack of confidence and self-esteem, internalized homophobia, and stigma about their HIV status," said the report.
    Stuart believes sexual health clinics need to go beyond simply testing and providing medicine, but also offering support in general relationship wellbeing.
    "It's a concern that deserves our compassion for a vulnerable group of people that are struggling with cultural changes associated with sex and relationships -- and will certainly not benefit from further stigma or judgment," he said.