HIV testing planned around Dallas on Saturday

AIDS Arms Inc. and Dallas County Health and Human Services have scheduled HIV testing at various locations around Dallas County on Saturday, Sept. 18, which has been declared National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.

According to county HHS Director Zachary Thompson, the 50-and-older population is one group that’s contracting HIV at higher rates than the general population.

Rubin Ramirez of Resource Center Dallas said he thinks people in this age group have become immune to the HIV prevention message because of treatments that are now available.

For more on some new Dallas County HIV/AIDS initiatives, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

Testing times and locations are below:

—  David Taffet

Meth and gay men: Tweaking, no thinking

One man’s story of his journey from HIV-positive drug addict on a downward spiral to HIV education advocate has a lesson for the whole gay community, especially youth

Leslie Robinson  General Gayety

“In my brief moments of clarity I knew my life was supposed to be better than this.”

Who said that? Who had mere seconds of clarity? Yogi Berra? Dan Quayle? Maxwell Smart?

If you guessed Lindsay Lohan, you’re getting warm.

The speaker was 26-year-old Jordan Duran, who in an interview with The Seattle Times described his addiction to crystal meth. He was part of a story about young gays contracting HIV through meth use.

As happy a topic as exploding oil rigs.

There is some happiness connected with Duran’s story: He’s alive. Not long ago you’d have gotten better odds on Mel Gibson joining the diplomatic corps.

Duran struggled in his hometown of Puyallup, about 35 miles south of Seattle. By the age of 5, he knew he was different from other boys. In high school he seized on religion. Duran even went to a therapist who “specialized” in reversing homosexuality.

During his senior year, he came out.

After graduation he headed for Seattle, moving in with an older man who apparently took his role as mentor very seriously, arranging official introductions for his protégé — to ecstasy, ketamine, GHB and then meth.

“From the first time I took meth I was hooked,” said Duran. “It was about escaping from who I was, and meth was the perfect drug to wash it all away.”

Chocolate does the same for me, but oddly, it doesn’t have that effect on everyone.

On his 21st birthday, Duran drank a boatload and then scored some meth. He had unprotected sex with a stranger.

A few weeks later it became clear what he’d gotten for his birthday: HIV. And many happy returns.

Joshua O’Neal, who does HIV testing research at a local hospital, told The Seattle Times that three-quarters of those who test HIV-positive at his clinic have used meth.

Said O’Neal, “When you feel invincible, you don’t care about using a condom.”

After he tested positive, Duran’s downward spiral got a move on. By 23, he was using meth 20 times each day.

Most people don’t do anything 20 times a day — except breathe.

He had unsafe sex. Staph infections and MRSA were frequent visitors. He contracted syphilis, which spread to his brain, causing disorientation. He was homeless.

Only Dante could do justice to this circle of hell.

Finally Duran saw a doctor, who happened to resemble his grandmother. She asked if he was using meth, and told him if he continued to use he’d be dead within six months from an overdose or the HIV.

Grandma took no prisoners. Thank goodness.

“Up until that point I was afraid of living, but suddenly I was afraid of dying,” said Duran.

He went directly from the doctor’s to an AA meeting, and began the arduous task of getting clean.

“Quitting the drugs wasn’t the hard part,” he said. “Feeling my emotions was the hard part.”

Duran has been victorious in the smackdown with his emotions — he’s been sober for well over two years. Soon after starting antiretroviral drugs, his viral load was undetectable.

He now works for Gay City Health Project, which focuses on gay men’s health. When someone on the skids comes in and tells him he doesn’t know what it’s like, Duran must struggle not to guffaw.

In Seattle’s King County, in the space of a year, about 10 percent of gay and bisexual men use crystal meth. For men under the age of 30, the figure is twice as high.

Combine that with the studies saying gay men who use meth are at scary-high risk for contracting HIV, and it all adds up to a real problem: tweaking twinks who can’t think.

E-mail Leslie Robinson at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and visit her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

HIV testing and wine tasting in Plano

wineCommunity Unity Respect Education Inc. celebrates its first birthday this week with two events, a wine tasting and HIV testing in Plano.

In coordination with the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Collin College, C.U.R.E. is sponsoring a free HIV testing today, June 22. Collin College is also known as the Spring Creek Campus of Collin County Community College land and is at 2800 E. Spring Creek Parkway in Plano.

Testing hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the college’s Conference Center.

National HIV Testing Day is June 29 and area agencies are offering free HIV testing at various times and locations until then.

On Saturday, June 26, C.U.R.E. hosts a wine tasting at Vinter’s Cellar, 4025 Preston Road in Lakeside Market in Plano from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

—  David Taffet

HIV testing: Why not now?

It’s easy to come up with plenty of reasons not to get tested now for HIV. But none of those reasons can outweigh the reasons you should get tested as soon as possible

Bret Camp Special Contributor

Why wouldn’t you get an HIV test if one was offered to you, free of charge, with results in under half-an-hour? Is there anything stopping you? Not enough free time? Don’t think you have any risk? Never had an HIV test?

Is it the fear of receiving a positive result? Or, is it the fear of knowing, positive or negative, you may have to face your own actions since your last test?

Consider these numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services from 2008, the last year for which data was available: 63,019 people in Texas were living with HIV/AIDS.

That’s one in 387 people.

The rate of African-Americans living with HIV/AIDS is more than five times that of Hispanics living with HIV/AIDS and four times that of Caucasians.

And 54 percent of the new HIV/AIDS cases were among men who have sex with men, while just over one in five were through heterosexual contact. Another 15 percent were through the use of injection drugs.

If you combine the numbers for Dallas, Tarrant, and Denton counties, three out of 10 of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Texas call North Texas home.

Thanks to technology and social media, it has become easier than ever to meet people for friendships, relationships or casual sex. You can even cruise from your cell phone or mobile device wherever you are.

Self-esteem and self-respect issues can sometimes play a role, leading you to trust before you think.

If you wouldn’t trust your sexual partner with your ATM card, because you may not know them that well, shouldn’t you think twice before you automatically trust their negative status or last testing date results? The person who thinks they are negative, but is positive, is at the height of being infectious to others.

Trust is a two-way street. If you feel you’re doing more of the trusting and less of the second-thinking, slow things down and protect yourself. You have the right to say no.

It’s been nearly 30 years since health professionals meeting in Dallas identified a mysterious disease they first labeled GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), and later, more appropriately HIV/AIDS.

There is still no cure for HIV. But a positive test result doesn’t mean that someone who is infected will become sick and die.

Early detection and medical care remains the key to long-term survival. New drugs are constantly being developed to fight the HIV virus in the body, and in turn, help people tremain healthy.

However, that doesn’t mean you should “risk it anyway” because you’re afraid to make it an issue with your sexual partner. You should never let someone pressure you into risking your health and your future.

Who should get an HIV test? If you’re sexually active and not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (keywords: mutually monogamous), or if you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should get regular HIV testing:

• Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, multiple partners or anonymous partners?

• Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?

• Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others?

• Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis or a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea or syphilis?

• Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?

By 2012, it’s estimated there will be more than 25,200 people living with HIV/AIDS in Dallas County alone, up from more than 14,700 in 2007.

You don’t need an appointment to get tested. Just show up at Nelson-Tebedo Clinic Monday through Friday, June 21-25. You can also get a free syphilis test at the same time.

If those days aren’t convenient, we’re holding a special National HIV/AIDS Testing Day screening the afternoon of Sunday, June 27 at JR.’s (thank you, Caven Enterprises!).

Respecting yourself and protecting yourself starts with facing your fears and understanding why you’re afraid of taking that free HIV test. Overcoming that fear and uncertainty is your first step toward taking control of your sexual health, and your future.

Bret Camp is associate executive director of health and medical services for Resource Center Dallas. Contact him at bcamp@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice