By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
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.
"We had to bring in the prominent party people in the scene on Sunset and Santa Monica [boulevards], and everybody had the same message: meth bad. Meth not cool," explains Duran. "There's still a meth problem in West Hollywood, but it's hideous now. They call [meth users] Gollum now—you know, that hideous creature, wasting away, making no sense in Lord of the Rings? We've changed the culture surrounding the drug."
* * *
Like many stimulants, meth lowers inhibitions, only to make you feel like you're on top of the world—you're the hottest, most social person in the room. Meth enhances sex and kicks libidos into overdrive.
"Because of the nature of the drug," McKie explains, "safe sex just isn't a reality. The use of condoms is just not there."
In fact, this is exactly what happened in McKie's case.
McKie was actually HIV-positive prior to his bout with meth, having contracted the virus in 1994. McKie's affair with meth started in 2002 and lasted for four years; he estimates that he had sex with something like 1,000 men in that time frame. He used a condom "maybe, maybe twice."
"That's just the mind-set you have when you're on this drug," McKie grimly explains.
McKie would look for his hook-ups in online chat rooms advertising PNP: Party and Play. They'd meet, get high, hook up and repeat. Sometimes for days and days.
During a quest for a hook-up, McKie came across an advertisement that simply read, "Meth" on one of the websites he caroused. The page introduced a documentary in progress by Todd Ahlberg on crystal meth and how it was ravaging the gay community. It asked visitors to leave a comment on a form. So McKie typed, "Be sure to check the back of your ticket stub before you get on this ride," and then pressed enter.
The note piqued Ahlberg's interest: He invited McKie to take part in his film, which was meant to be shown to the friends and family members of addicts.
In the 76-minute film, McKie is the only one who claims he has no regrets about meth.
"I don't want to quit. Because I enjoy all of the fun festivities it has to offer. This is a world where you take what mom and pop and the church tells us about sex, and you throw it out the window. And I like that window. I really do," a smug McKie explains in Meth. "I don't regret it. Deep down inside, I've got this little voice, and I think other people have it, too, and you can't shut that sucker up. You just can't shut him up no matter what you do—how many drugs you ingest, nothing. It's starting to raise some objection again. So do I want to quit? No, I don't. But I have to."
McKie's eyes shift and he bites his lip. "I have to."
The documentary, with its jump-cuts, quick edits and reverberating music, contrasts the ignorant McKie with a bevy of reluctant, sympathetic characters. McKie was the guy dressed all in black, one arm casually draped across the top of a couch and flashing a smirk of conceit. But by the time he attended Meth's debut screening in February 2006, McKie was living in the back of his stenography business and his BMW had been repossessed.
He walked out of that Santa Monica movie theater determined to get clean.
Not only has he stayed clean, but he's also dedicated his life to helping spread the word on the prevalence of the drug in not just the gay community, but the county as a whole.
Until recently, McKie had been a member of the Orange County Methamphetamine Task Force for two years; he served as secretary for the final nine months. The task force, started in 1999 to address the spread of clandestine meth labs in the county, is composed of about 20 representatives from state, federal and local agencies who meet monthly to exchange data: newly reported HIV cases, people on probation because of something they did related to meth, children affected by meth, and so on.
While McKie says these activities are helpful, he believes the task force is too focused on the criminality of meth. "[It] does not address the issues in the community head-on like many task forces in other counties do," McKie says. "Many of the [others] were started as community-based organizations by [people] who were affected in some way by meth and wanted to address the issue from a community perspective and not a law-enforcement perspective."