My best friend of 10 years: a brilliant composer, musician, singer, actor and teacher; a 41-year-old gay man originally from the Midwest who had long struggled with self-esteem, sexual identity, internalised homophobia and the death of a lover from AIDS and the HIV infection of other loved ones; who had finally conquered 20 years of addiction to alcohol only to replace alcohol with crystal and ecstasy; whose underlying mental health issues came roaring to the surface with the use of these drugs; who became convinced that key close friends, family and lovers were plotting against him; who came to perceive conspiracies within conspiracies on a personal, local, national and global level; who crashed his car in a high-speed frenzied attempt to inform authorities that "crystal meth is being put in cigarettes", was charged with DUI, locked in a psych unit and fired from his teaching position; who faced the possibility of jail time; who lost all self-esteem, all hope and all perspective; whose once-formidable intellect tried in vain to reconcile logic with paranoia; who braved three weeks in a drug treatment program before sustaining one last attack of paranoid psychosis, during which he effectively eluded the treatment facility staff and hung himself by the neck with his own belt until dead...
Who is now a memory and a small urn of ashes. By his own account he had used crystal fewer than ten times.
As I've tried to make sense of my friend's passing, one thing has become crystal clear. At the risk of appearing un-hip, or naive, or one of the boring types - or even of alienating some people - I am compelled to send this message:
This drug is evil. It destroys peoples' lives, and often destroys their minds. Its effects can take months or longer to begin to dissipate, if they dissipate at all. Underlying mental health issues are brought to the surface in the most malignant ways, and prolonged use can bring on psychosis and paranoia where none previously existed. You lose your friends, your housing, your erection, your teeth, your health, your grip on reality, and often your life. If you survive, the road back is slow and painful. If you're not so lucky, you end up like my friend.
If you haven't tried crystal, don't. If you've tried it a few times with no apparent ill effects, don't be seduced. If you or someone you know has a problem, reach out for help. It's there for the asking.
I'd give just about anything to have my friend back, but that's not possible. What is possible is for our community to recognise what an enormous problem this has become, and start to face it. Ten years ago I saw colourful, vital gay men populating dance floors all over this city. Now, too often I see joyless, clammy, flacid, paranoid, twitching zombies whose eyes look like black holes of hopelessness.
Ten years ago we were still passionate about protecting our community from an epidemic. Look around you. Welcome to the new epidemic.
Buddy Akin, Los Angeles