Ed McKie Has Been Stymied in His Efforts to Create a Safe Space for Gay Meth Addicts in Santa Ana

Metheds to His Madness
Ed McKie wants to create a safe space for gay recovering meth addicts in the Santa Ana Artists' Village. His efforts have gone . . . about how you'd expect

If you visit, all you'll see is a white page, black text and a brief explanation: "Metheds. A place about recovery and community. Opening soon in Santa Ana. For more information, contact Ed McKie."

But that's all Metheds is right now: an idea, some wishful thinking and a name.

Are Ed McKie and MethEds unsuitable for downtown Santa Ana?
Jeanne Rice
Are Ed McKie and MethEds unsuitable for downtown Santa Ana?
McKie hopes local artists such as Joseph Hawa and MethEds can work together
Jeanne Rice
McKie hopes local artists such as Joseph Hawa and MethEds can work together

Ed McKie sits, his legs neatly crossed, at one of the endearingly mismatched outdoor tables at the Gypsy Den Santora. The slender 50-year-old is wearing a navy print button-up shirt with sensible sneakers.

"My dream," McKie starts out slowly, "is to have a place where people know it is a safe and sober environment every day. Where they can be themselves without fear of being judged."

Metheds, short for Meth Education, would create a secure and accepting environment for recovering addicts—methamphetamine users and others—specifically from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

While it would offer such services as sober-living referrals and job-skill training, Metheds' main purpose would be to simply provide a place where people can hang out, have a cup of coffee, use computers, learn how to maneuver software programs, work on résumés and perhaps even ogle some artwork by local artists. After-hours, the center would ideally host Alcoholics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Many recovering addicts are forced to shed their entire social universes. Many wind up in jail, but once released, have no support, income or sober friends. "If your spouse or your partner is still using, then you know what? Chances are, you're going to use again," McKie says. "If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you're going to get a haircut."

McKie speaks from experience: He has survived alcoholism, a suicide attempt, a heart attack, meth addiction—all the while thwarting the onset of AIDS and dealing with kidney stones and a subsequent Vicodin addiction. In that order.

He has taken his experiences, his background in Santa Ana politics, his familiarity with running a successful multimillion-dollar business, and his undying determination (stubbornness, even) and invested them all in opening this one place somewhere in the downtown Santa Ana Artists' Village he helped to create.

Metheds would be providing a desperately needed service to the community. But McKie has run into a few complicating factors: reluctant landlords; a reputation that precedes him; and a city, county and LGBT community that some say are in denial about the problem.

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Meth hasn't earned the same pop-culture glam factor as some other drugs. Cocaine evokes the '80s, Studio 54, Kate Moss. Heroin? The '90s, Studio 54, Kate Moss.

But meth? Meth is some shirtless guy with a soul patch getting body-slammed to the dirt outside his trailer in Norco on an episode of COPS.

In 2002, McKie was about as far away from that image as can be imagined: a happy, accomplished, 44-year-old gay man. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Newhall—that's modern-day Valencia—McKie became a manager at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station after a brief stint with the Navy; he's called Orange County home ever since. McKie drove a BMW, lived on a yacht in Newport Harbor, co-owned a successful Orange-based business, the Steno Doctor, with his ex-partner David Paplham, and, thanks to his involvement in Santa Ana city politics, had even lunched with senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

One night, McKie met with a hook-up he had secured on the Internet. The man invited him to do a line of what McKie thought was cocaine. But as soon as the stuff hit his nose, he knew it was something different. He had just snorted crystal meth—a substance that would define his existence for four years.

"This drug isn't just about homeless people," McKie explains. I've partied with bankers. I've partied with vice presidents of companies. I've partied with rich people. I've partied with poor people."

In California, methamphetamine use has flourished. Orange County participants in a report done for the Orange County Meth Task Force reported lifetime methamphetamine use at twice the rate (7.8 percent) of statewide survey participants (4.3 percent). In fact, after alcohol and marijuana, meth was found to be the most widely used substance in Orange County. The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program found that the number of people arrested in the county who tested positive for meth increased by 46.3 percent from 2000 to 2003.

Sometime in the '90s, crystal meth intersected with gay culture, according to a study by the California Society of Addiction Medicine. Over the years, stories linking the strong connection between methamphetamines and the rise of new cases of STDs and HIV have appeared in everything from gay publications such as The Bladeto such mainstream newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Just four months ago, gay CNN International reporter Richard Quest was busted late at night in New York City's Central Park with meth in his pocket.

John Duran, former mayor of West Hollywood and current member of that city's council, has tackled the rampancy of meth in the gay community head-on. About two years ago, the former Laguna Beach and Santa Ana resident helped to change the image of the drug—which, in the gay community, was that of glamorous party fuel—in a city where, up to that point, more than half of the new HIV cases were related to crystal meth use. Through a series of crowded town-hall meetings and working together with law enforcement, elected officials, the Gay and Lesbian Center, and AIDS Project Los Angeles got programs started.

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