Our view from the European Chemsex forum

We wrote about chemsex last year and recently our sexual health nurse, Sarah, has been out and about at events and training to help improve the support we offer to people who disclose they’ve participated in chemsex.

SH:24 Sexual Health Nurse               Sarah Cox

SH:24 Sexual Health Nurse               Sarah Cox

Over the last few years in my work as a sexual health nurse, I have experienced more and more men who have sex men (MSM) disclose they’ve used certain drugs (some I had not heard of before) during sex.

I wanted to understand more about this issue within the LGBTQ+ community so I can help in my clinical role and also within my role at SH:24. Around 15% of SH:24’s users are MSM and live in Southwark and Lambeth, there’s a likelihood some will have participated in chemsex. I will deliver talk by text and webchat support to people when this part of the service launches so need up-to-date information so I can give the right advice and signpost to appropriate services where needed.

Chemsex training for professionals from Antidote

I attended a training day run by Jamie Willis from Antidote. Antidote are the UK’s only LGBTQ+ drug and alcohol support service and were the first drug service in the UK to see people who need support around their chemsex use. Antidote quickly saw the link between chems drug use and sexual health and wellbeing and now have dedicated sessions within 56 Dean Street and Mortimer Market.

HIV workers from Essex told me that there are a lack of specialist services like Antidote outside of London and quite often their patients move from London because they want to get away from any temptation to use the drugs. They are then faced the the problem of having to travel to central London, a place with triggers around, to receive help from Antidote. It made me wonder if more could be done through online video calls for people who can’t get into the city.

Mainstream drug and alcohol services are not equipped or experienced to deal with the types of drugs that these groups are using. Antidote also found that “only 12% of people accessing their service would feel comfortable using mainstream drug services”. This could possibly be because support workers need to be comfortable talking about sex and sexual practices as well as drug use. This is why there are more disclosures and successful interventions at sexual health clinics.

The training day set out to help clinicians understand how to work with people around chemsex and I felt better equipped at the end. I met HIV clinicians, drugs counsellors and psychotherapists from a huge range of organisations and we all discussed our experiences seeing people who use chems and the challenges they face.

European Chemsex Forum

SH:24 was among 200 organisations selected to attend the European Chemsex forum which was organised by 56 Dean Street, GMFA, Reshape, IHP and Professional Briefings. This event was the first of its kind and an opportunity for multi-disciplinary  and multinational discussions around chemsex It’s evident this is not just a London issue and it’s great to see a united response from so many disciplines wanting to share best practice.

At the forum we heard that there had been 30 deaths from GBL overdose this year in London alone. 56 Dean Street have around 20-30 new diagnoses of HIV per month among chemsex users attending the clinic. Hepatitis C is on the increase due to needle sharing and STI rates are high. I saw some excellent harm reduction interventions from sexual health services and outreach services who provide testing, slamming packs and advice to reduce risk in chemsex practices like Burrell Street, PipPac and Positive East for example.

We heard that consent can become an issue when people are high on chems. It is not uncommon for someone to lose consciousness when taking GHB. If this happens then the person cannot consent to having sex. Attempting to have sex with this person is rape and is illegal. Quite often people who are involved in situations do not recognise what has happened or just want to forget that it happened. I have seen this first-hand when I worked in a sexual assault referral centre in London. If I suspect someone I’m speaking with has been sexually assaulted, I explain different options for people they can talk to, to help them find a solution they feel comfortable with.

I’d have liked to have seen more on how better sex education in schools could reduce the negative effects of chemsex for LGBTQ+ people. 56 Dean Street chemsex lead David Stuart believes many men use chems during sex as a means to facilitate intimacy and overcome internalised shame they have about their sexuality. Sex education is key to not only eradicating homophobia but improving the emotional wellbeing of people who identify as LGBTQ+ .

Working with specialist services

One of the people I met at the forum was Louis Driver, Engagement Officer from the After Party service. After Party are a London-based drug support charity who also help people with chemsex issues. They run outreach interventions, HIV screening, support and advice for MSM within the community.

We have since met with Louis and his team to learn more about their work and how we can work together. I love it when professionals from different organisations can work together for the benefit of our service users.

If you would like some support around chemsex, the following organisations are a good place to start:

Antidote: http://londonfriend.org.uk/get-support/drugsandalcohol/

56 Dean Street: http://www.chelwest.nhs.uk/services/hiv-sexual-health/clinics/56-dean-street/services

After Party: http://www.afterparty.org.uk/

Metro Charity: https://www.metrocentreonline.org/

Positive East: http://www.positiveeast.org.uk/