West Hollywood residents and visitors will be getting a survey on the meth crisis, asking community members to share their observations and experiences with meth. The survey, by The Safe West Hollywood Community Coalition, will includes questions on whether residents have seen anyone using or overdosing on meth, or experienced external harms from meth, such as threats to physical safety or discarded syringes in the streets. It also asks for opinions on harm reduction methods such as safe injection sites, sobering sites, and syringe exchange sites.
Participants will be entered in a drawing to receive a $25 gift card.
“Meth is an “emerging drug threat” according to new legislation just signed by President Biden,” reads a press release by The Safe West Hollywood Community Coalition. “The Methamphetamine Response Act will require the government to develop a specific plan to address the skyrocketing meth overdose rate, which nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019.”
The meth crisis has hit every part of the country, including in Los Angeles. West Hollywood and surrounding communities have the highest rates in L.A. County. The most recent statistics from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health show that the West Hollywood area, which is in the County’s Service Planning Area (SPA) number 4, has the highest meth-related emergency department visits (all ages) and the highest meth-related hospitalizations.
Law enforcement and public health officials link the climbing overdose rate to a greater supply of meth. The drug is relatively cheap to produce, and some of the meth is tainted with fentanyl. Meth is also part of the party culture among many gay men who seek out hook-ups on social apps such as Grindr.
Harm reduction is a set of practices that seek to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, including overdose. Recently, the Biden administration announced $30 million in funding to implement harm reduction services throughout the nation. In West Hollywood, the Being Alive HIV/AIDS service organization received funds from the City of West Hollywood and the City of Los Angeles expand its hours and its harm reduction services, which include access to sterile syringes, disposal of used injection equipment, overdose education, Narcan distribution, linkage to treatment for substance use disorder and safer smoking equipment.
“By engaging with people who smoke drugs, we offer them an array of other services including referrals to treatment, said Timothy Zenbeck, Syringe Servicing Program Coordinator for Being Alive. “We start conversations and build relationships, to help lead people to health and treatment services.”
More than 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs. Only one in 10 (2.6 million) are receiving treatment, leaving 20 million Americans in what’s known as a “treatment gap.” Communities nationwide are trying to solve that treatment gap, and harm reduction is one method.
The underlying principle behind harm reduction is to essentially meet people who use drugs “where they are” in an effort to stop the spread of disease and to establish a relationship with people that may eventually lead them to seek medical treatment and drug rehabilitation. The specific harm reduction practices that are offered in any given community are based on the needs and issues surrounding that community.
The Safe West Hollywood Community Coalition will make harm reduction recommendations to the WeHo City Council based on the results of the survey.
The preliminary list of recommendations include:
- The creation of a trauma-informed sobering site with integrated harm reduction services.
- Strengthening the city’s crisis response by integrating trauma-trained and mental health professionals.
- Prioritizing and protecting housing for people seeking treatment and leaving residential treatment.
- Increased funding for and continued expansion of syringe service programs.
- The creation of a social alcohol- and drug-free community gathering space.
Through the survey effort, the Safe West Hollywood Community Coalition hopes to advocate for harm reduction programs that both address the meth crisis and reflect the desires of the community.
“The reality is, the greatest impact of the crystal meth epidemic is being felt in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly men who have sex with men, and it needs to be addressed,” said Dean Ambrosini, Prevention Coordinator for the West Hollywood Project. “We need to create a solution that helps provide treatment options for people using the drug as well as employ prevention tools that educate the public, reduce overdoses, and improve community safety.”
The survey will be emailed to residents starting the week of April 4th. West Hollywood visitors will also get a chance to weigh in with their opinions by answering the survey in person. Coalition members will be at various locations throughout West Hollywood on weekends in April.
The Safe West Hollywood Community Coalition is a group of concerned citizens, health professionals and business leaders in West Hollywood working to reduce substance-related harms in the community. The coalition is directed by the West Hollywood Project and funded by the LA County Department of Public Health, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control. The coalition is open to anyone concerned with substance misuse in West Hollywood and meets on the last Thursday of every month. To join, email firstname.lastname@example.org.